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Dine and Dash Courtesy of IBM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Consider paying for your lunch just by leaving the restaurant and never once having to pull out your wallet.

IBM is certainly thinking of it. It's part of the Armonk, N.Y.-based company's current television campaign highlighting its strategy to mesh Wi-Fi networks and pervasive computing. Company Global Wireless Business General Manager Scott Stainken said the concept is not that far off.

"We are raising a wireless generation and they are going to expect that the technology will work in the same way that in our working life, we expect broadband in our hotel," Stainken said during his keynote at this week's Wi-Fi Planet Conference and Expo here.

Stainken said IBM's role in the Wi-Fi craze is not to become a network business or an equipment provider. Instead, it wants to use its middleware such as WebSphere Everyplace and IBM Connection Manager as part of its back-end "e-business on-demand" offerings.

Big Blue's consultants and evangelists are selling the package in two different frameworks: a Service Provider Delivery Environment (SPDE), managed primarily by the providers and its Wireless Ecosystem Delivery Environment (WEDE), which is initiated by the provider but is owned by the enterprise. IBM's focus areas include Service Delivery, Entertainment services, and Connectivity.

Such is the example of IBM's dealings in asset monitoring with RFID tags. With its consulting arm, IBM has established an RFID service for customers like British supermarket giant Tesco and disposable medical product maker Kimberly Clark. The company is in a good position on RFID consulting because of its acquisition of PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

"We are also working with non-retailers in the area of telematics for applications like collecting tolls, traffic management and find out if someone is speeding," Stainken said.

But Stainken said separating the hype from the reality of wireless depends mostly on open standards for the development of multi-network support and the network convergence of 3G Wi-Fi, WiMAX and IEEE wireless standard 802.20, which Stainken referred to as Mobile-Fi.

"We are looking at the 2005 time frame for bringing metro LANs and Mobile-Fi into our service offerings," Stainken said. IBM's cause will certainly be helped when Intel, Broadcom and others begin offering WiMAX on silicon chips about the same frame.

IBM is also using other Wi-Fi practices to demonstrate how wireless fits in with their backend networks. For example, the U.S. Department of Forestry uses a Boeing/IBM-based system to let firefighters set up hotspot transponders in sporadic locations to set up an ad hoc, "on demand" network. Data from PDAs is then relayed back to a central command post.

In another example, Stainken pointed to the Hong Kong's transportation agency, which has set up hotspots along its rail system to capture connectivity at 180 mph.

Finally, IBM is using a personal WLAN in controlled media applications to deliver personalized advertisements in public walled garden spaces.

"We are getting several bids from enterprises that start out using Wi-Fi for maintenance or surveillance, which then turns into conversations with the customers who want to know what else they can do with the access.

The Wi-Fi Planet Conference and Expo is produced by Jupitermedia, and parent company of this Web site.