Wireless collaboration set to go

Collaborative computing is about information and the ability to access it without limitations. One limitation that persisted was that of the wired world. Now collaborative computing is getting talked about more in terms of wireless capability.

In theory, wireless collaboration from a purely networking sense has been possible for about a decade. Traditional collaborative computing allowed for file server replacement technology for terminal technology, or groupware, that would allow documents to be shared. With the advent of wireless capabilities, collaboration is reaching new levels, even though industry experts may not feel demand or widespread adoption is prevalent yet.

One vendor was able to show off what collaboration can accomplish at this past summer’s World Cup, hosted jointly by Japan and Korea. Spanning two countries and 20 stadiums, Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya Inc. had the unenviable task of setting up a wireless LAN that allowed the football crazed to use their laptops or phones and ensured connectivity reached into locker and media rooms.

“It’s not quite as easy within a LAN environment because you need to find more access points, especially in the downtown core. The infrastructure requirement is very large and you would have to assume that there are thousands of small carriers or suppliers of wireless network services, (and) how are you going to integrate that so you have a single password for a single access regiment in order to roam between those sites?” said John Williams, director of distribution sales at Avaya Canada in Markham, Ont.

Today, Williams said collaboration is taking hold in the oil and gas sector, where wireless LANs are monitored and controlled by an 802.11b network so that alerts can be sent from one end of the site to the other. In the corporate world, the convergence to a single network for voice and data services (VoIP) is another example, he added.

But while there are projects that require access to shared documentation or mobile workers who need to siphon out corporate data from their laptop wirelessly, collaboration is still in its infancy at best.

“(It’s) early days (and) we’re still feeling our way without a very clear idea about where we’re going to end up,” said Richard Lee, principal in the communications industry practice at Deloitte Consulting in Toronto.

One of the most common devices, the RIM BlackBerry, is an example of how collaboration can work. But on the whole, corporations can’t seem to justify the tangible benefits. While the cost of the device can be measured, along with service and airtime costs, collaboration does not address the business bottom line.

“The benefits, though, are a little intangible yet. How does the fact that you can collaborate with your colleague while sitting in the gate at the airport help you earn an extra dollar? How does that help you save money?” Lee said.

Fellow analyst Dan McLean agrees with Lee that deployment is not high in Canada when it comes to collaboration, but noted it is a business reality. “Collaborative computing defines modern day computing just as distributed computing does. People want to be able to share documents or resources, applications or collaborate on different projects,” said the research analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

Not everyone is ready for wireless collaborative computing, but the adoption in niche markets is happening. McLean pointed to academia as one example where successful wireless infrastructures have been implemented.

Education could be a good starting point, Lee said, but it may not be reflective of how other markets will implement wireless computing as there are closed networks and high levels of security in education.

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