IBM Details WLAN 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 e-business 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 in the wireless communications marketplace since July 2000 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.

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