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Wireless spoken here

Companies that aren't managing their wireless services properly now will only face more trouble down the road.

May 1, 2004  

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It’s pop quiz time. Does your company have a centralized strategy for procuring and managing wireless telecommunications equipment and services?

How about an IT or telecom manager whose duties include researching developments in wireless telecom and recommending new ways in which wireless can be integrated into your business?

If you answered “yes” to both questions, good for you. If not, you are not alone.

I continue to be surprised by the number of companies that do not manage wireless the same way they do their regular (wireline) telecommunications and computing needs.

It is not unusual to find companies — some quite large — that allow departments or even individuals to do their own wireless procurement.

Frankly, companies need to do more than ask departments or employees to buy their own devices and subscribe to their own services on an ad-hoc basis, then simply submit the bills to accounting.

This approach is not only more costly, it will also become increasingly difficult to control as equipment makers and network operators introduce more wireless data applications and more complex devices.

Exercise in frustration

There is no doubt that wireless devices are sophisticated pieces of technology. Many examples on the market today incorporate digital cameras, voice services (including many network-driven options such as voicemail, calling line ID and call waiting) and data services (such as text messaging, e-mail, address books, calendars).

The most complex wireless devices even allow the user to install applications from vendors who traditionally serve the computing market.

And, of course, today’s laptops can be equipped with radio systems to connect wirelessly to local area networks (using, for example, 802.11b) or public networks (such as GPRS and 1xRTT) run by the same companies that provide mobile phone service.

These devices can deliver many benefits to companies of all sizes, but they also require some investment in time and training if a business is going to maximize the return on its investment.

It makes good sense to make the IT department responsible for corporate wireless services, but unless the department is given the human and other resources it needs to do the job this will be an exercise in frustration for all concerned.

IT departments are notoriously overworked as it is, and without proper resources managing wireless devices, services and accounts represents quite a burden.

One handset and service management company I recently spoke to noted that in a large corporation, it can take a couple of people working full time just to deal with replacing wireless devices that have been broken, lost or stolen.

Understanding wireless is already a complicated undertaking, but it promises to get even more complex in the years ahead. A good example of this is Software Defined Radio (SDR).

Already, militaries around the world are specifying SDR systems when they shop for new communications gear, and it’s only a matter of time before SDR-based devices trickle down to the commercial sector.

Currently, the radio in a mobile phone or other wireless equipment is a hardwired piece of technology with no user-serviceable parts inside. A 1xRTT-equipped laptop can have all sorts of nifty applications loaded onto it, but it’ll still only talk to one specific network: take that laptop to Europe, and chances are it’ll need a GPRS radio before it can be used wirelessly.

SDR breaks that “black box” radio into discrete hardware, operating system and application components, allowing the user to mix and match equipment and programs from different vendors.

When these systems become commercially available, buying a wireless phone, PDA or local area network will be more akin to buying a computer.

SDR-based wireless systems will be much more flexible and powerful than today’s offerings, just as a PC far outstrips a calculator. But, like the PC, these new systems will come with a much steeper learning curve.

Granted, SDR systems are years away from widespread commercial deployment so companies have time to prepare for their introduction.

But the wireless industry isn’t sitting still, which means in the meantime if your company isn’t already prepared, it’s not going to get any easier. My advice is to build that wireless-friendly corporate culture now.

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry. He can be reached at 416-878-7730 or

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