Coverage biggest issue for wireless enterprise apps

At CTIA, enterprise CIOs discussed the challenges with deploying wireless devices and applications

Wireless coverage is the biggest problem facing some companies that rely on wireless-enabled devices and applications, speakers at Thursday morning's CTIA keynote presentation in San Francisco said.

UPS, which has 100,000 mobile devices in use by drivers and 45,000 wireless scanning devices at hubs, has found some ways to address the issue of poor coverage but still finds it to be the biggest challenge it faces, said Jackie Woods, systems manager at UPS.

It now uses Gobi chipsets from Qualcomm that allow devices to connect to networks that use either CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) or GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology. "With the Gobi radio you can switch between the different carrier technologies and extend your reach across multiple carriers," she said.

Before using Gobi chips, UPS had to work hard to give the right device to the right driver to ensure the best coverage.

HealthSouth, a health-care provider, also struggles with coverage problems. "My incident management system is end-users calling me saying they can't use this app because they have no coverage," said Rusty Yeager, vice president and deputy CIO of HealthSouth. "Then my only opportunity is to change carriers, and we do that regularly."

Both companies said that when considering deploying wireless products to a workforce, it's important to be thoughtful about offering users devices that fit their needs. At UPS, it conducts form-factor field tests before making large purchases. It recently gave drivers an array of devices ranging from a BlackBerry on the small end to a device from Honeywell, which it ultimately went with, on the large end.

"You have to make sure it's usable," Woods said. "Some of our drivers said, 'Will you look at the size of my hands? How do you expect me to use a device this small?'"

HealthSouth learned the hard way how important it is to make sure people want to use a new device. It bought 5,000 tablets with an application designed for use by physical therapists. It later reduced the number in use to 3,000. "We found when we deployed the tablet PCs that each person using it had different requirements. Some were good with a pen, others with a keyboard. It took us a while to discern that," Yeager said.

The companies said they are trying to accommodate demands from employees to bring their own devices into the enterprise, but they are carefully considering security implications.

"Our CEO has an iPhone, so I do see that pressure," said John Dick, senior vice president and CIO of Western Union. He expects that he'll have to support personal devices in the future. But when that happens, he would use tools that allow users to segment their personal applications from business applications, as a way to ensure security, he said.

Yeager also noted that an increasing number of consumer devices come with tools like remote wipe that make them easier to support in the enterprise.

HealthSouth also hopes to be able to allow workers to bring in their own devices, in part as a way to stay competitive. Otherwise, "as a company, we will be missing that opportunity for good employees who will come to the organization and stay with us if we provide them with the tools they can use," Yeager said.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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