Taking Wireless Bull by Horns

Wireless technology is mature, fast, reliable and rapidly nearing costs able to drive mass adoption.

Twenty years ago, the arrival of the IBM PC struck IT departments like a bomb. IT managers had no idea how deeply PCs would penetrate and then obliterate their big-iron world.

PC sales soared as workers brought the radical devices into companies via the back door. Years passed before IT recovered. How powerful was the blast? It vaporized a dozen or so billion-dollar companies and nearly took out IBM.

The same thing is happening today with wireless technology. It is mature, fast, reliable and rapidly nearing costs able to drive mass adoption. As eWeek Labs tests published last week concluded, 802.11a technology is five times faster than 802.11b, which already rivaled wired broadband and DSL speeds.

Wireless growth is not just confined to the Internet and data worlds. By the end of last year, 10 million wired phone lines were displaced by wireless services, mostly by consumers, according to IDC. Presumably, these consumers will want the same flexibility at work.

As wireless costs decrease, adoption rises. IDC in one of its 10 predictions for the global IT industry this year makes the problem clear: "Businesses will feel a crunch in 2002 as users and workers with wireless and mobile Internet access create demand for enterprise support thats not yet in place."

IT can avoid being blindsided or, as with the PC, can just let it happen. Theres no excuse for the latter even as IT wrestles with smaller budgets. Here are a few things you can do to anticipate wireless needs:

• Poll users on their wireless needs and how adoption will make your company more competitive and profitable. Couch questions in a way that shows the company is studying the legitimate opportunities, not rushing headlong into the technology for its own sake.

• Proactively demonstrate whatever proven wireless technology you already have. Practice what you preach, and get wireless yourself. If you dont have the money to buy evaluation units, many vendors would happily loan them to you with the promise of business down the line.

• Persuade top management to offer moral support, resources and money to help you quickly find wireless opportunities. The technology, and maybe what your rival is doing with it, can make a compelling case.

If you endured the early days of the PC, you know what I am talking about. Show those coming afterward that they are not doomed to repeat history.

How wireless are you now, and how wireless do you need to be in a year? Write to me at [email protected].