Ira Brodsky: Prepare yourselves for the wireless enterprise

Wireless is fast becoming the world’s dominant telecom technology, and enterprise networks are next on the list of things to be untethered.

Consider these facts. More than 400 million wireless phones are sold annually. This year, the total number of wireless phones in use worldwide will for the first time surpass the total number of wired phones in use. Unlike wired phones, the majority of wireless phones are digital. Wherever digital takes hold, prices come down and performance goes up. Wireless networks are no exception.

Many pundits and network managers remain skeptical. They complain that wireless is less reliable, more expensive, insecure and plagued by competing standards. These are legitimate concerns. But progress is being made on all fronts.

For personal-area networks, there are new applications for which wireless has no serious competition. Soon, all portable electronic devices – from mobile phones to notebook PCs to digital cameras – will be able to exchange data at high speeds merely by coming within proximity of each other. No more fumbling with cables.

Wireless LANs have been widely used in warehouse, factory and retail-floor automation for some time. Use in offices has skyrocketed during the past few years as inexpensive IEEE 802.11b products have emerged, and wireless LAN access points are being deployed in public areas such as airports and hotels.

In the metropolitan-area network, 3G wireless networks are taking off in Asia and North America. Korea has nearly 5 million 3G users. 3G networks are rolling out nationwide this year in the U.S. and Japan. Fixed wireless links also are spreading in campus and cross-town applications.

In wireless WANs, the use of satellite networks in mobile applications is growing. Inmarsat enables voice and data communications on land, in the air, and at sea. Qualcomm Inc.’s Omnitracs service serves more than 400,000 long-haul trucks. And millions are using the Global Positioning System in emergency, tracking and navigation applications.

Wireless evangelists have said for years that field automation is ripe for wireless. Finally, wireless is ripe for the field.

Don’t just take my word for it. Beginning this month, some of the biggest names in networking will join me in presenting a series of free, Network World (U.S.) Tech Update seminars: “Integrating and Managing Wireless in Your Network.” If you happen to be in the U.S., you might want to catch up with me and Cisco Systems Inc., Symbol Technologies Inc., Western Multiplex Corp. and Funk Software Inc., which all will be among those on this coast-to-coast tour.

Network executives of the world, don’t get blind-sided or left behind. You have nothing to lose but your copper tethers.

Brodsky is president of Datacomm Research Co. in Chesterfield, Mo. He can be reached at