Getting the message across

Getting the message across

A unt Mary is sick as a dog and needs instant diagnosis. Thankfully, with the advent of wireless technology her tech-savvy doctor can offer immediate relief and prognosis. Indeed, wireless devices and applications are providing improved bedside access to data.

That's just one scenario playing out thanks to wireless technology. Certainly, as WLAN/Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies continue to take up residence in a host of industries (including banking, education, transport and emergency services), resellers can help customers build a business case for the technology. Partners can help in the design and implementation of a secure wireless network.

Part of the pitch includes helping enterprise and government achieve improved staff performance, productivity, accuracy, and better customer response times, analysts say.

Considering the benefits, many enterprises are adopting WLANs to complement their network infrastructure strategy.

Typically strong in the SMB space, large enterprises are starting to take a shine to the technology, IDC associate analyst for telecommunications, Shing Quah, said.

"Market uptake is still strongest in the SMB space, but this year we'll see it push more towards the enterprise," she said.

Locally, corporate WLAN deployments grew from 21 per cent in 2004 to 32 per cent in 2005, Quah said. Additionally, 75 per cent of laptops shipped last year came embedded with Wi-Fi technology, signalling more wireless market momentum, she said.

The future of WLAN adoption in the digital home also looks promising, IDC telecommunications analyst, Susana Vidal, said.

"Adoption of digital home devices will definitely play an important role in the increase of WLAN usage in Australian homes," Vidal said. "Online gaming, media sharing and MP3 streaming among others will boost home networks deployments."

Home leads wireless charge

Nortel Asia-Pacific's product marketing manager for data networking solutions, Jae-Won Lee, said the home push is fuelling the growing corporate adoption.

"Companies are starting to realise that if a user gets used to wireless technology in the home, they come to expect it in the corporate environment," he said.

Other overall market drivers included vendor wins such as the recent Cisco deal with the Victorian Department of Education and Training to provide 9000 access points, as well as momentum in the wireless switch market and improvements in manageability, Quah said.

The rollout of hotspots, along with the feverish push from key verticals into the mainstream corporate world, was heating things up, wireless expert at Symbol Technologies, Damian Stock, said. Getting immediate access to business-critical applications was a big turn on for companies.

"There's ubiquitous connectivity taking place in Australia," Stock said. "The technology has traditionally been in retail, warehouse, manufacturing, transportation and logistics. But is now being scooped up by white collar workers using laptops and PDAs with in-built radios. Finally, it's becoming more acceptable in the office space driven by the availability of wireless-capable devices."

But don't get too worked up about it, according to analysts. There are still issues slowing widespread adoption including concerns over security, lack of scalability and worries over centralised management.

Indeed, as the technology has evolved and new equipment has been added, wireless networks have become increasingly difficult to manage.

Moreover, the vulnerabilities associated with wireless networks are all valid concerns, analysts claim. Other challenges include ensuring a consistent user experience in terms of coverage, throughput and support for roaming.

"Security and a lack of clear business benefits [whereby the ROI isn't clear] are the two biggest inhibitors," Quah said. Having said that, security improvements including the ratification of 802.11i and version 2 of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) have given the market a much needed confidence boost, she said. Likewise, issues surrounding scalability and centralised management were also diminishing, IDC's Vidal said, given the increased supply of corporate tailored solutions such as wireless switches and blades.

Other improvements were here, senior systems engineer for security at Juniper Networks, Greg Bunt, said. Centralised management functionality had cleaned up nicely.

"The technology can now manage thousands of devices, while offering antivirus and access and control policies," he said.

The other area of improvement came with the ability to manage, engage and deal with the legacy infrastructure, Bunt said. "Many of the older devices don't support the newer encryption algorithms," he said. "The trick is to support the legacy infrastructure and enable it with the newer technology, and manage the security policies between all of them."

With today's improvements in centralised management, a major benefit was a reduction in deployment and operating expenses, Express Data product manager for Cisco, David Peach, said.

In particular, the advanced radio frequency and device management functionality of the Cisco Wireless LAN solution engine simplified daily operation and management of medium and large scale WLANs, Peach said. "The technology lets administrators detect, locate and mitigate rogue access points and RF interference," he said.

Given the complexity and need for expertise, the local VAR has a role to play in hooking up the wireless infrastructure. On the hardware front, potential items to be included in the reseller's kitbag include access points, wireless/broadband routers, bridges, wireless NICs and wireless switches.

And that's just the hardware side of things.

Consulting opportunities were rampant in the wireless world, Peach said. "There is a lot of preparation work," he said. "Resellers can perform site surveys - determine the number of access points and where to locate them. The profitability won't come by selling the access points, but providing the services [like the site surveys]."

So where is the action in 2005?

Health and education were the latest hot markets where resellers could use wireless technology to win new business and increase margins, consulting systems engineer at Cisco Systems, Adam Radford, said.

"These are two of the verticals offerings a compelling business case. In each, mobility is a big aspect of day to day operations," he said.

Logistics and retail were other likely spots, Radford said. In particular, resellers should look for opportunities in smaller type deployments - spread over a wide geographic area.

"Campus-style environments - hospitals and universities - are ideal," he said.

A top considerations for resellers when implementing wireless was building a business case, he said.

"While this goes without saying, resellers need to figure out what applications are required in different parts of the enterprise," he said. "For resellers, it's a combination sell, helping enterprise/public sector leverage the different advanced technologies including wireless, IP telephony and security."

On the health front, getting access to information about patient medicine is golden. "This gives better quality of care, and staff productivity," he said. Newcastle Private Hospital in NSW was a case in point, Radford said.

The hospital uses a converged network for voice, data and security, souping up operations with an IP communications solution from Cisco and Allcom Networks.

Helping to deliver the way services were delivered to patients, the converged network provides voice, video and data communications over fixed line and a WLAN, he said.

The next step? Radford said the hospital was considering the use of videoconferencing and other services such as patient Internet access, automated meal ordering via telephone and wireless access to patient medical data.

Indeed, for many it was still a wired and wireless environment, he said.

"Understand where the coverage will be, the applications that are suited and the main benefits - and how it all fits in with existing networks,"Radford said.

In large scale WLAN deployments, it would always be a mixed environment since wireless remains a complementary technology that offers additional mobility, IDC's Quah said.

"A wireless network is still not as high-speed compared to the LAN environment," he said.

Peach said resellers contemplating dipping a toe into the market should consider wireless as complementing the network infrastructure environment.

"It's still a combination sale - that is the key," he said. "Resellers can integrate it into an existing network."

In addition to the wired versus wireless consideration, Radford said there was a trend towards multi-band deployments - a top consideration in terms of scalability.

"Will the technical design include 11b/a or g - or all three?" he said.

While g is limited to three channels (and interchangeable with b), 11a offers up to 12 additional channels - important considerations when deploying wireless networks and looking for high performance.

Radford said resellers will also see added opportunities by considering the security and management tools in place to control the networks.

"Wireless means ongoing maintenance and tuning," he said. "Partners can offer different types of wireless access." Partitioning was one likely scenario, Radford said, whereby you could have guest users as well as authenticated users.

Beyond mixing and matching and putting the tools in place to manage the networks, Symbol Technologies' Stock said resellers must consider a trio of items when using wireless to win new business.

"First, wireless technology has evolved to the point where security is no longer an issue," Stock said.

"Second, the ROI of a wireless enterprise solution can vary from months to a year, so customers need to evaluate the long-term impact of wireless solutions on their business.

"And third, wireless products need to be packaged as part of a solution that adds value to business applications."

On the application side, the technology needed to have what Stock called "mobility modules" to ensure the wireless network understands and could talk to the different devices attached to the network and all possible scenarios.

"This will help reshape the application data output to a small screen format," Stock said.

"As well, sometimes the device may go off air [be out of the wireless range] so you need to ensure the application is consistent across the disconnect and reconnect stages."

Resellers also need to consider the management tools needed to support the wireless network.

"To deploy an enterprise PDA, manage it and support it wirelessly costs about $3000," he said. "But if you can improve on the ROI by putting in the right management tools to support the wireless network, then it will pay for itself quickly."

These types of considerations are just a few that were often overlooked by a reseller, Stock said.

"Many resellers are just getting into it for the sake of it, but don't have a handle on it," he said. "They understand the business case for a wired environment, but not the ROI for implementing wireless."

Let's talk trends

Nortel Asia-Pacific's product marketing manager for data networking solutions, Jae-Won Lee, said there were a host of trends likely to shape the wireless market for resellers in the next six to 12 months. First off was mobility management, he said.

"WLAN products are becoming more intelligent in their ability to better service a mobile worker's requirements in terms of quality of service, security and service delivery," Lee said.

"This can be used as a competitive advantage by resellers looking to develop solutions for different user demographics."

Resellers should also look for opportunities with voice over WLAN, particularly in verticals such as hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing, mining and warehouse to increase productivity and improve customer service, Lee said.

"Integration with third-party applications such as nurse call systems in hospitals makes this tech-­nology far more attractive than using other technologies like digitally enhanced cordless telephone [DECT]," he said.

Recent developments such as Blackberry integration with SIP-based communications systems, which introduces a level of functionality and security for portable, wireless consumer devices, gives resellers the opportunity to bundle value-added services such as email and phone calls on the device, Lee said.

"It's all about mobility - not just about the wireless network or connectivity, but the delivery to the applications," he said.

The challenge here for resellers was understanding voice and data networks, Lee said.

"Resellers may be only trained up in data or only in voice," he said. "They need to understand how to integrate both technologies."

In addition to deciphering the voice systems and data side, other considerations include understanding the quality of service and customer requirements, Lee said.

Last but not least was wireless mesh technology, he said. A top technology to watch, wireless mesh extended the reach of WLAN technology, making it attractive for organisations with large open areas such as mining sites, university campuses and warehousing facilities to deploy WLANs cost effectively, he said.

"Because it's an extension of existing WLAN technology, channel partners don't need to learn any new skills to deploy the solution for their customers," Lee said. "All they need to know is how to position and place the long-range access points in a mesh array, and we provide complete service and training in this regard for our partners."

Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Western Australia uses wireless mesh technology to connect 168 of the university's buildings, director of knowledge and IT services centre, Jeff Murray, said.

In conjunction with the site survey and installation efforts of reseller WJ Moncrieff and a technology partnership with IBM, the university underwent extensive network analysis and design and invested in a wireless network.

As such, wireless-enabled laptops would connect to messaging, email, the Internet and other systems in just about any space on campus, he said.

"Staff and students can wirelessly communicate inside and outside," Murray said. "They can use a Web cam, chat to the helpdesk, chat to librarians and councillors. Essentially, they can do quite a bit of business using a laptop under a tree."

Hooking up 23,000 students is the ultimate goal. To date, 2200 students are wirelessly-enabled.

"It will take a few years to get there," Murray said.

The next step wass adopting wireless voice over IP, he said. "We spend 450,000 on annual mobile phone bills," Murray said. "But with IP technology, we could reduce that by 70 per cent." n

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