Robust, Flexible Technology
While wireless networking has been around for years, it was the formal ratification of the 802.11n standard that made enterprise users take notice. The new standard supported technology that was both robust and flexible. In addition, it allowed true portability, which in turn meant that enterprise-grade portable devices became feasible. Meanwhile, the continuing growth of 3G and 4G wireless meant that the enterprise-grade connection could exist outside the office. "The fundamental objective is to make sure that people in the field have access to the same information and capability that people in the office do," said Craig Mathias, principal analyst at the Farpoint Group advisory service. "There used to be a saying that people in the field don't want the same things as people in the office, but that's not true. This is the first time we've been able to replicate office IT functions and put them in the field."
Unfortunately, some wireless carriers are complicating the adoption of enterprise wireless networking. AT&T, for example, has stopped offering unlimited data plans due to the demand for bandwidth by the Apple iPad and iPhone.
This type of flexible coverage was the rationale for the development of Cisco's Cius tablet, which is capable of handling true enterprise applications. According to Barry O'Sullivan, Cisco's senior vice president for the Voice Technology Group, the Cius is a video-centric device designed for 11n and 3G environments. "The primary users will be businesspeople who are mobile, inside buildings or between buildings," he said. O'Sullivan said Cisco has designed the Cius to support 4G LTE when it becomes available. He said that he thinks the device will be particularly useful for financial services and public sector applications, adding that there's a rugged case accessory for warehouse and factory environments. "The name of the game is that all businesses have access to the same information," said Farpoint's Mathias. "When everybody has access to the same stuff, the only differentiator will be how quickly you can move stuff around to people who make decisions, and how quickly you can make those decisions known. How much is it worth to get a temporal advantage over your competition?" The answer is that it could be worth quite a lot. Mathias describes a mythical insurance agent to illustrate how a well-designed enterprise wireless approach can make a difference. "You're an insurance agent sitting in your client's office, and your client wants to make changes," Mathias said, describing the first scenario. "You take notes, and offer to send the numbers over. "Now you're a modern insurance agent, and you're interacting with an application that figures the numbers on the fly. Who's going to get the business? Nothing irritates customers more than having to wait for an answer." Ultimately, that's the promise of enterprise wireless: not having to make your business wait for something to happen, whether it's for a new insurance quote, or for a pick list to be delivered to a forklift driver, or for the warehouse crew to show up at the loading dock. In business, time is everything, and gaining that temporal advantage is the reason the enterprise is starting to love wireless.