Wireless Enterprise IT Is Here Today

Companies must stop waiting for standards and security and start supporting employees' choices.

Companies are deluding themselves if they think they can postpone wireless deployments until the technology is stable and secure. As happened in the 1980s with desktop PCs, employees are driving the process forward, and eWeek Labs has been looking at products that help IT staff support the resulting diversity of wireless wares on company networks for several years now. More recently, industry heavyweights have also come around to this way of thinking.

In his keynote speech last month at the Pocket PC Summit conference in Los Angeles, Richard Stone, manager for Enterprise Mobility Solutions at Hewlett-Packard Co., said these deployments might happen one employee at a time, but supporting wireless devices is now an imperative, not an option.

"What are the two things that you do on Monday after your kids talk you into buying a wireless handheld on Saturday? First, you expense it back to the company; second, you show up at your IT guys office door and say, Make this work with the company e-mail," said Stone. "The majority of handheld devices are chosen by employees, even if not necessarily paid for by the employee."

Companies have to get a grip on the resulting issues of security and management today and be prepared to deal with the resulting heterogeneity for years to come, he continued.

When enterprise sites are trying to defer a wireless deployment, Stone said, its typically because of concerns about rapidly changing standards, integration with other enterprise network services and doubts about return on investment. He suggested that the wireless standards war is over, adding, "If I can go into Frys and find it on special, its an industry standard; if its under $150, its a pervasive industry standard. That makes 802.11b a pervasive industry standard."

On the software side, Stone promised HPs continued compatibility with current iPaq devices in a commitment to Microsoft Corp. technologies for the handheld and the Web services platform. Echoing other recent HP statements committing the company to Microsofts .Net, Stone called it the "open, nonproprietary" services framework and suggested that both Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM were favoring their own proprietary solutions for Web services.

Stone promised that HP would be addressing other enterprise concerns with features such as "guest printing" support from wireless handhelds and with high levels of functional integration. (This to quiet the often-voiced complaint about whats been called the "Batmans belt" look of the modern worker carrying multiple devices.)

Standing in front of drawings bearing prominent labels of "CONCEPT ONLY" and resolutely refusing to comment on unannounced products, Stone nevertheless suggested that customers might soon see a fusion of the iPaq and Research In Motion Ltd.s BlackBerry into a single handheld e-mail terminal and Internet portal device.

"The evolution of the iPaq," said Stone, "will include wireless LAN, wireless WAN and Bluetooth." It will include a removable battery, he said, mentioning one of the differences thats made HPs Jornada (soon to be phased out) preferable to the iPaq for some buyers; it will also provide faster processors, better displays and integrated biometric identification such as fingerprint scanning to mitigate the security risks of wireless devices that have access to enterprise networks. "170,000 devices are left on public transportation in the United States every year," he said.

Wireless penetration is more than a matter of technology; telecommunications carriers business models are also important factors, Stone said. Voice traffic, he added, is the carriers crown jewel, and they will not threaten voice service to provide data bandwidth. The more wireless infrastructure gets built by other parties, as on enterprise or academic campus networks or in retail facilities such as coffee shops, the sooner users will enjoy pervasive access.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.