Magazine Article | April 1, 2002

Wireless Technologies: Freedom Or Imprisonment?

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Thoroughly researching any potential wireless implementation can save your company big bucks and maybe even spare your job.

Integrated Solutions, April 2002

You've probably seen the commercials with people using their cell phones to activate vending machines or to trade stocks while wearing special "Internet-glasses" in the park. If you're like me, you loudly scoff at these commercials (much to the displeasure of family and friends). While these utopian visions of our technological future sell stock (I guess), the real wireless technology has been quietly changing the way people work.

The largest financial services companies in America are deploying two-way pagers to help desk techs who have large buildings to cover. Other companies are providing service techs with ruggedized laptops that are connected via nationwide wireless networks. So, it's easy to see that wireless technologies are saving time and money while increasing efficiencies for companies of all types. But it's not all a bed of roses.

Failing To Plan Is Costly
Too many companies have installed wireless technologies and then had to replace them because of lack of planning. Older wireless LANs, which adhered to the standards of the time, are running on 900 Mhz signals. Today, unfortunately, there are many more wireless devices that all operate in that same frequency. As a result, a manufacturing plant with older wireless technology can have service disrupted by a cell phone call.

Given the ever-shifting technological landscape, you can never tell when some brands will be bought up, changed, or just fade away. Ricochet Technologies, for instance, made a huge push to get their mobile wireless network access product into hundreds of companies. This year, it declared bankruptcy and the cute little boxes attached to thousands of laptops have gone dead. This is not a unique tale these days.

Not surprisingly, I'd recommend you work with a company that has good experience with a lot of different wireless technologies, in order to maximize your chances for success. Even if you use a technology partner, here are the things you'll need to figure out in order to make wireless technology work for you:

  • Figure out your application - Like any technology product, lack of focus results in lots of money spent without any real results. Take the time to figure out what you want the wireless technology to do.

  • Determine what coverage you need - If you're going to link your manufacturing systems to your supply chain, inventory management, and financial systems, you only need local LAN-type coverage. If you're interested in enabling your salespeople to access data or make sales at customer sites, you'll probably want broader coverage. Don't waste your money on coverage you don't need.

  • Use the simplest technology possible - Less complex technology is cheaper and requires less training. Don't invest in overkill.

  • Get backed by a biggie - At this point in the history of wireless technology, you can never tell what is going to happen with a given manufacturer. As a result, be willing to pay a little more to get a top brand. Maybe you'll have a choice between NoName, Inc.'s wireless access points and some from Compaq. If both meet your requirements, pay the $50 to $100 more for the Compaq.

  • Have a backup plan - What happens if your wireless service goes out? Take time now to figure out how you're going to get your business-critical operations running again.

  • Pick multiple manufacturers - When you're selecting a standard, try to pick a primary standard and a competing standard that are interchangeable. That way, you're covered if your primary vendor goes out of business, is out of stock, or decides to change technology.

  • Be aware of security - The basic standards for wireless technology don't even take security into consideration. Potentially, that means anyone could get nearby access to your facility and pick up your radio waves and resulting data. Also, keep in mind that most security algorithms are currently proprietary. So, you won't find two pieces of equipment with the same security implementation.