The Wireless Disconnect

As this week's special report points out, there are a lot of myths surrounding wireless, most of which have to do with universal deployment. But there are others.

Theyre wrong.

As this weeks special report points out, there are a lot of myths surrounding wireless, most of which have to do with universal deployment. But there are others. The one that really gets me is the belief in a "killer app." I dont take exception when people say a super application may be needed to push consumers use of wireless devices. But a lot of pretty smart people also say there needs to be a killer app for wireless to "succeed" in the corporate world. Id like to know their definition of success.

Wireless technologies — from untethered Internet connections to wireless wide area networks to wireless local area networks — are taking the corporate world by storm. In our recent I-manager survey, the almost 900 business and technology leaders surveyed overwhelming said wireless was the emerging technology they were most focused on — by a 10 to 1 margin over everything else. The reasons are twofold. Some U.S. companies are looking for productivity gains and are arming their work forces with mobile devices. Others are trying to stay connected to an increasing mobile customer base. None of them are waiting for a killer app. Theyre moving ahead with unique systems now.

American Airlines lets its passengers check flight info from wireless devices. Bank of America recently unveiled a wireless transactional banking service. Office Depot, with the help of Symbol Technologies, is implementing a mobile transportation and logistics system. Starwood Hotels & Resorts is using wireless devices to check guests in at the curb. United Parcel Service lets its customers track shipments from wireless phones, Web-enabled pagers or personal digital assistants. All these apps came online, or were enhanced significantly, in just the past month or two.

Hey, there are several wireless obstacles. Service levels are often suspect, coverage is limited, standards are in flux, connections can slow to a crawl, systems need to be better integrated, and interface designs are primitive. Some wireless network operations have faltered. And then there are the two big hurdles: cost and security. But the wireless industry is working hard to overcome these shortcomings. The technology gets better. Corporate I-managers are finding new uses for mobile devices. Companies are becoming better connected to customers and employees.

"The process is evolutionary rather than revolutionary," says John Matthews, a vice president of Mercer Management Consulting and a wireless expert. Corporations may need to work to get their wireless apps up and running smoothly, he says, but they are putting in place solutions that make sense. "To look for a killer app," he says, "well, I just dont subscribe to the killer app theory." And neither do I. There are plenty of applications. They work. And theyre helping businesses do business.

There are infrastructure and technology problems with wireless that need to be overcome. But those who believe a killer app needs to be developed for business users are wrong. Businesses arent waiting for a single killer app. Theyre deploying any number of business apps that are killer.