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In '04, wireless to take enterprises by storm

Will stronger wireless security standards finally be enterprise-ready in the next year? Find out what our experts think about that subject and much more in their 2004 predictions.


In years to come, we'll remember 2003 as a pivotal time in the mobile computing industry. The year began with an emphasis on consumer geejaws, like camera phones, and high tech conveniences, such as hot spots in coffee shops. As the year progressed, however, we saw a shift in focus toward enterprise use. Wireless LAN products dominated the news, with special emphasis on improved security standards, like Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and the upcoming 802.11i standard.

In the enterprise space, 2004 will be the known as the year that wireless technology really takes off. Look for even more widespread wireless LAN deployments, and a return to basics in the device market, as mobile computing systems become the workhorse technologies we always knew they'd be.

Here's what our experts see for the coming year.

Kevin Beaver:


  • We'll see increased deployments of WLANs, due to emerging security standards and increased options of third-party add-on products to secure and manage WLANs.


  • We'll see a stronger convergence of WLAN and cellular technologies, due to the cell phone giants' support of Wi-Fi.


  • We'll start to see the beginning of the end of Wi-Fi hot spot usage charges. It's just too expensive for the casual wireless user. Eventually, the WLAN costs will be distributed among all customers in coffee shops, airports, etc., to "hide" the fees and make hot spots more appealing.


  • We'll continue to see a lot of 802.11b deployments. Many 802.11b infrastructures have already been built, the products are maturing, and most people don't need [802.11g's] 54 Mbps network access just to browse the Internet, send e-mail, or make minimal file transfers. The WLAN alphabet soup lives on.

    Lisa Phifer:

  • Availability of [security specifications] WPA and pre-standard 802.11i in new Wi-Fi products will lay to rest old concerns about Wired Equivalent Privacy cracking, helping the industry refocus more of its attention to needs other than security.


  • The wireless LAN switching market will start to contract, as large network hardware vendors acquire some startups, and others fail to find a profitable niche.


  • Business use of smartphones and PDAs will continue to grow, finally reaching the critical mass needed to draw real IT attention to scalable administration and corporate privacy concerns.


  • Dual-mode 3G/Wi-Fi handsets will emerge, but wireless WAN/LAN roaming will be initially hampered by inadequate network infrastructures and a lack of business agreements necessary to deliver ubiquitous connectivity with seamless handoffs.

    Ask Lisa about her predictions.

    Tim Scannell:

    Prediction 1: We will finally see early products that are based on the IEEE's proposed 802.11i advanced encryption standard (AES), which essentially does for wireless what the current Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol does for hard-wired systems. While the demand for such systems and secure technology is strong, there may be a gradual acceptance of 802.11i products, since there are some compatibility issues surrounding the implementation of these new systems in current Wi-Fi networks. There are also many users who think that the current Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security protocol is sufficient, and that we perhaps need an extension of that -- rather than a whole new level of software.

    Prediction 2: An increasing number of enterprise users will opt for next-generation wireless smartphones and other communications-centric devices, rather than purchase individual handheld computers and other systems that basically offer personal information management applications and some remote data access capabilities.

    Words of wisdom
    Look for new devices from the PalmOne camp [formerly Palm/Handspring] that adopt the Treo 600 design model, and a variety of smartphones that are able to access corporate e-mail, offer enhanced Web-browsing capabilities, and feature extended instant messaging technologies that juggle multiple discussion threads.

    Prediction 3: Look for next-generation notebook computers that not only feature embedded wireless technology (which is quickly becoming a purchasing mandate), but also offer built-in capabilities to adapt to different network environments. These enterprise version of these systems will be able to automatically synchronize with and work within established managed network environments, and will be equipped with both software and firmware that enable virtualized teamwork within a company or remotely.

    You will also see a wider variety of tablet PCs that will offer improved battery life, better screen resolution and a smaller form factor, appealing to field force workers and competing with handheld computer alternatives.

    Prediction 4: Look for commoditization in the wireless switch market, as the number of players increases and the prices decrease on generic switching products. A number of key vendors in the network space, including Cisco Systems, will introduce products that offer more RF signal sensing capabilities, automated management and load balancing. As a result, a number of smaller, third-party solution providers may find themselves out in the cold, as more enterprise users look to limit the number of boxes that plug into their wireless networks.

    Prediction 5: Despite aggressive plans by Wal-Mart to deploy radio frequency identification (RFID) systems throughout its stores and push its suppliers to fall in line to adopt the smart tagging process, progress in this area will be delayed due to conflicting standards, concerns about security and privacy, and a poor understanding of the impact such systems might have on back-end infrastructures.

    Look for a number of companies to take the lead in terms of developing stronger standards, especially in establishing rules concerning RFID systems and networks operating outside the U.S. Also, we will see an increased interest in and use of "active" RFID systems, which initiate broadcasts on their own, setting the stage for real-time supply chain management and control.

    Ask Tim Scannell about his predictions.


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