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July - 2009 - issue > Technology
Trends-in-Enterprise-Wireless-Space
Anurag Goel
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Moving beyond the clichés, the term ‘Enterprise Wireless Space’ begs for some kind of a definition. Here we find that even the venerable Wikipedia, powered by thousands of brilliant minds working tirelessly to try and provide digested information on everything from A to Z on the Web, turns away the eager searcher empty handed. Even a search on Google is of no help. Well, that is not surprising considering that when you google ‘Google’, you are presented with a list of component arms that comprise Google. In the same spirit, let us define: “Enterprise Wireless Space is a collection of technology components comprising of: a/b/g/n WiFi, Access Points, Client Devices, LAN Controllers, Network Management, Mobility Services, VoIP, Security, Wide Area Wireless Networks, Location and Context Aware Solutions, and so on.”

The definition presented above is illustrative of the chaos observed by the hapless enterprise manager who approaches the event horizon of the black hole that comprises the technologies defining the Enterprise Wireless Space, looking for a solution for that thorny enterprise problem eating away tens of thousands of non-productive labor hours. But the intrepid ‘integration’ engineer that dives right into the space wonders, “Chaos? What chaos? I don’t see any chaos!” Of course the engineer only sees the round hole but the enterprise manager from afar might see the square peg of an enterprise problem he is carrying. At other times, the engineer may have previously sized up the problem before he dived into the technology space and may invent a customized solution that actually works well.

But despair not, for all is not lost. While some technology development continues on its own trajectory and gets thrown over the wall as a one-size-fits-all solution, some technologies are created to allay specific enterprise pain points. An example of this is Class I RFID technology that was created specifically for item tagging. If the implementation cost had allowed sufficient ROI, this technology would have worked brilliantly as a replacement for barcodes. But when the ROI equation did not work and other problems such as asset tracking and inventory control were thrown at RFID technology, things fell miserably apart. The ROI was not forthcoming and the technology was not ready for a lot of different applications – it turned out to be a case of square peg in a round hole.

Similarly, Bluetooth comes to mind – but it has proven to be a good Consumer Wireless solution, though not an Enterprise Wireless solution (unless you consider the Bluetooth computer mouse to be an enterprise productivity tool). Zigbee could be considered as an Enterprise Wireless Solution in some cases, but that technology was designed from the ground up to serve the consumer space. It remains to be seen if this technology will serve certain niches in the Enterprise Wireless Space and meet the constraints of power requirements and scalability demanded by some applications.

WiFi is an excellent example that has met many needs in the Enterprise. This technology works very well for applications requiring high data rates and that can bear relatively expensive client devices that don’t need to run on batteries beyond a few hours. WiFi SIPs are beginning to make their way into the market place for low duty cycle applications, but it remains to be seen if they will meet the cost and power requirements of many applications. Multi-band Wireless Mesh for outdoor deployment is another technology that holds promise for applications requiring monitoring or tracking of widely distributed assets. Enterprises such as electric and water utility companies are beginning to deploy these metropolitan scale networks for real time monitoring as well as for substantial energy and labor savings.

An example of a wireless technology that has not stood up well is the IR technology used for wireless applications in the Enterprise. The fact that this technology has severe limitations of high infrastructure costs, line-of-sight issues, and the fact that most wireless applications will live on RF networks, is making the existence of low-use and high-cost IR networks in the enterprise obsolete.

Often, certain enterprises have to sit and wait for the right technology solutions to come along. In the meantime, they are forced to try to shoehorn existing disparate technologies to solve their problems – mostly with expensive and disastrous results. In such cases, these enterprises eventually shelve technology solutions and make do with repetitive labor-based, expensive, and inefficient solutions. These enterprises, typically, will not have technology, but will have marketing and supply-chain efficiencies as their main business focus. Characteristically these businesses are high-volume and low-margin ones. The retail industry is a very good example of this. Technology providers will often ignore the requirements of these enterprises as being too difficult or less glamorous and focus on low-hanging fruits in other target markets. The result of this is that too many technology providers end up chasing a smaller market segment and as a result provide poor returns to their investors. Many such technology providers eventually die and are written off as a consequence of the law of averages by their investors; however, the effects on the financial markets and the economy in general can be severe. On the other hand, there are a few daring companies, mostly startups, that are nucleated around the need to address specific pain points in a vertical target market. These companies will analyze the problem at hand and build a solution space integrating existing technologies and innovating where the need arises. The result is that the customers get a fully vertically integrated solution for their enterprise and the cost and risks are amortized across a large customer base.

So, in the end, when it comes to the Enterprise Wireless Space, do not try to jam a square peg in a round hole, or shoehorn a technology where it does not fit – pick your favorite cliché here. Rather, recognize an enterprise pain point and build technology solutions for that to work. Technology companies that do this will remain to be the last man standing in the Enterprise Wireless Space and will be handsomely rewarded by the markets.

The author of the article is Anurag Goel
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