The quiet revolution is getting louder

Computerworld Canada –

In this industry, griping about hype is like shooting fish in a barrel. You endure it every day. So do I. Heck, my colleagues and I may even be responsible for creating some of it. Still, whenever I hear the word "wireless," I instinctively roll my eyes.

I remember when the first wireless revolution took place -- sometime in the nineties, I think it was. Mobile devices were emerging en masse on the market, proudly showing off their grey and green screens, packed with enough memory to run a plain-looking calendar. Problem was, most of you didn't buy in.

Versions 2 and 3 of the wireless revolutions are a bit hazier. I know they helped push the development of devices into the sleek, memory-packed, colour machines we see today, and even led a few of you to dabble in pilot projects. Alas, software and device makers were still taking the hard-sell approach -- informing you, the customer, that it was high-time to buy in. And when vendors talk that way, I know that either a) no one wants to use their particular product, or b) customers simply don't feel the business pressure to justify a rollout. The non-revolution continued.

Well, here we are at the cusp of yet another one, or so it appears. Consider: in recent days Palm Inc. announced its intention to try to pry open the enterprise market with new devices. Microsoft Corp., meanwhile, launched a slew of initiatives around its mobile .Net strategy, and Intel Corp. is readying more chips designed for mobile computer users.

So, on one hand, you should prepare yourself for more hyperbole and pie-eyed predictions because we in IT have elevated them into a veritable art form. That said, it appears this time things may be different. Recent signs seem to indicate that wireless technology is finally finding its enterprise legs.

When Rogers AT&T recently announced that 93 per cent of Canadians live within reach of its GSM/GPRS digital wireless network, the largest of its kind in Canada, during a splashy launch event in Toronto, the company took little time to congratulate itself. Instead, grim-faced and subdued, officials said all this merely set the stage for yet another run at the elusive enterprise market. To help in that assault, Rogers trotted out an HP exec, a customer, Purolator Courier, and an industry analyst to prove to potential clients that the time for wireless technology has come.

Compared to other, similar events, the tone was different. These officials outlined in a sober, methodical way how adopting wireless technology can save companies money. And they didn't gloss over the rough spots. They admitted that some roadblocks have yet to be ironed out, most notably a lack of enterprise-class support. However, they also pointed out that many pervious problems have been largely solved. The coverage is here. The devices are strong enough. Security is being addressed and, most importantly, the kinds of applications enterprises want to see are being built.

Also, wireless technology has demonstrated considerable resilience. In the wake of the post-Y2K spending slowdown, exacerbated by 9/11 and the meltdown of some service providers, survey after survey revealed that wireless projects were likely to be the first on the corporate-spending chopping block. But research analyst firm IDC says the market is hanging in there, and earlier this year forecast the worldwide market for wireless and mobile infrastructure consulting, integration and management services to rise to US$37.42 billion by 2006.

In the end, only you will decide whether the time for widespread adoption is here or not. But as we enter this revolution, it appears that this time all the players at least have their ducks in a row. MacMillan is editor of ComputerWorld Canada. He can be reached at mmacmillan@itworldcanada.com.

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