Thursday, June 23, 2005

Corporations ought to re-think their Wireless Connectivity Strategy

No question, pervasive computing is just as empowering and amenable in office spaces as it is everywhere else. However, with few exceptions, corporate facilities have had networked computing over wire for decades. Not true of other public places in general, nor in most homes until recently. So in that sense wireless connectivity in the office was a redundant channel.

The cost sensitivity that usually accompanies 'luxury' didn't last long because the barriers to entry for the consumer (cheap cards and WAPs, embedded centrino etc ...) dropped precipitously, starting from the earliest days. It wasn't secure (ch-ching) and it wasn't centrally managable (ch-ch-ch-ching) - but by golly it worked terrific in the office as an extension of the intranet out your wallplate.

There's a recap of WiFi circa 2001-2004. So what's happening now? Same thing, only better. The local has gone wide (think internet), the wireless tether (often measured in yards today) is disappearing altogether, security is tighter and there are greater mixed usage options. That last one's a doozy because once again, the pace of this change is all end-user driven.

I used to say I'd never seen any body of tech standards evolve as quickly as the 802.11 family. And while that hasn't abated, I find enough foundational problems to see it all getting pushed aside soon, in favor of much better approaches. Things like EvDO, yes, but also WiMAX, CDMA-based WiMESH and UWB, to name just a few.

The more important deja vu for corporate IT staffs? This stuff is going to walk right into building, just like last time. No budget flags, no cost recovery model, no support training, no targeted security system adjustments or policy modifications ... surprise! Here we are, it just works. "Now please tweak the data repositories, authentication systems and application proxies to meet our changing needs. You've anticipated all this, right; it's why we pay you the big bucks, right?"

Well, the answer I'm seeing from peers across corporate America is, "not exactly, chief." Are folks still reeling from the shorter change cycle, or bought into all the vendor nonsense about how now, finally, wireless has achieved maturity and stability?? Nothing could be farther from the truth, in my opinion.

While support for the 802.11 flavors of WiFi may be around for a few more years, increasingly, users (affiliates of every type) will demand that their intranet resources be made available from everywhere, to any device. I believe continuing major build-outs of corporate WiFi infrastructure will prove to be a poor ROI. Better to put more funding towards secure, internet-facing proxies to serve up their intranet resources, independent of concern over points of origin.

Can't do 3rd party email from the office today, or instant messaging trans firewall, or VOIP, or having your business-related content searches blocked by imperfect filters etc ..? (chances are, you'll be walking in with your own solution next) But these are different 'opportunities' that deserve separate discussions. Stay tuned.

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