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IBM Outlines Extent of WLAN-enabled Wireless Applications

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The real issue with wireless Local Area Networks deployment isn't so much access, costs or even data rates as it is usability and applications available throughout the enterprise, according to a top official at IBM Global Services.

Speaking at the inaugural 802.11-Planet Conference and Expo here at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Dean Douglas, General Manager of IBM Global Services' Wireless eBusiness Services unit, explained usability and applications are the leading stumbling blocks to enabling wireless enterprise networking.

Apart from middleware such as Websphere and Tivoli, IBM doesn't own applications and typically has looked to independent software vendors for support. While wireless eBusiness only represents 3 to 5 percent of Global Services' overall business, Douglas said he believes critical mass for wireless enterprise usage should be reached by end of 2002 to 2003. But once deployment does accelerate, productivity gains will improve depending on the service or industry of the employee.

"The productivity gains are astronomical," Douglas said during his keynote speech.

Douglas explained that IBM has invested over $1 billion since July 2000 into the wireless communications marketplace and has 6,000 people worldwide trained on how to deploy WLAN. That figure is projected to grow to 10,000 people by next year.

"As a company that's as fragmented and bureaucratic, IBM has said we want to be a big player," Douglas said.

As an example, Douglas examined the impact to non-executive workers that a recent Harvard Business Review study dubbed "Gold Collar" employees -- well-educated, essential workers that aren't tethered to an Ethernet connection such as nurses, airline mechanics, etc. For this class of the American workforce, "technology has been a relatively static thing," he said.

With wireless capabilities such as wearable computing or wireless devices, WLANs can greatly improve the output of these class of worker between 30 and 50 percent, he said. The findings are based on his division's own customer results, primarily from the public (government) sector.

The U.S. WLAN infrastructure, as it's been rolled out, has fostered business-to-employee data communication flows as opposed to business-to-consumer flows that are characteristic of platforms in Europe and Asia -- in part due to the control of the access in the hands of telecommunication giants such as DoCoMo of Japan and Hutchinson in Hong Kong.

But in addition to data flows between employees, the deployment of WLAN applications can also accelerate via what Douglas referred to as machine-to-machine communication. Through service-level agreements, IBM is currently helping manufacturers such as Carrier Air Conditioning and Whirlpool with next-generation appliances that utilize wireless connectivity.