Bell pieces together WLAN puzzle

Bell Canada claimed it got a jump on its fellow telcos in the wireless local area networking (WLAN) space last month while announcing a set of new services around the emerging technology.

The company stated through a press release that Bell is the first large Canadian telecommunications company to enter the WLAN market. Terry Mosey, president, Bell Ontario, added that Bell is “well-positioned to take a leadership role in this rapidly growing market.” He made the comments at a press conference in Toronto.

In offering the WLAN services, Bell will be working with two primary vendors: Cisco Systems Ltd. and Symbol Technologies Inc. The former will bring its Aironet 350 Series and 1200 Series Access Points to the table, along with its 350 Series Wireless Bridges. Symbol will offer access points as well, along with its NetVision phones designed for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) environments, data capture devices, PC cards and wireless personal digital assistant (PDA) terminals.

Bell will pony up services that include consultation, network design, product acquisition, site preparation, system configuration, security, testing and support.

Although maintaining that security will not be a concern for WLAN service customers, Kerry Eberwein, general manager of Bell’s Cabling and Wireless LAN business unit, said all IT elements have to be considered when deploying such technology and making it secure.

“Systems must be engineered properly, and that example seems to be missed,” he said.

Lawrence Surtees, a telecom analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, echoed those comments, but emphasized that the human factor must also be considered by the enterprise when it comes to security.

“Security isn’t solved by money or technology,” he said. “Today’s (security) products are based on some of the most sophisticated mathematics ever conceived by humans, but if all your people aren’t thinking about security, you’re doomed to failure. It’s a life-long learning process.”

Although WLAN technology has been available for quite some time, Bell said it chose to enter the market now because it felt that the products its partners were developing were what customers were asking for. When pressed, Eberwein said there were a number of factors that caused Bell to wait until now to launch its offerings, one of which was a development in its partners’ technologies.

Early adopters of the Bell WLAN services include the National Trade Centre in Toronto and Markham Stouffville Hospital in Markham, Ont. The hospital used a WLAN to complete a project involving patients’ electronic health records.

“The wireless LAN is part of a larger strategic project we call ED, or Electronic Documentation,” said Scott Briggs, director of information technology at the hospital. The untethered infrastructure allows clinicians to move among patients with a laptop computer, wheeled on a cart, and record new data and access existing information about a patient. The hospital deployed the WLAN in April and will expand its use this year to include wireless telephony, said Briggs.

He added that the decision to go with Bell had a lot to do with Symbol’s involvement.

“Symbol has extensive experience in the health care sector. Hospital environments are unique, and we wanted someone who had been there before.”

The health sector is one of the main vertical target markets at which Bell is aiming its WLAN services. Others include the manufacturing, retail, education and hospitality arenas.

Although he said the Bell initiative was not a surprise, Surtees applauded the move. While saying the announcement represents but an early development in the WLAN story in Canada, Surtees added that the technology is definitely going to be deployed in increasing numbers over the next few years. IDC Canada is predicting that the Canadian WLAN market will be worth $75 million this year and will rise to $152 million by 2006.

While Bell indicated that it is the first large telco in Canada to enter the WLAN market, a Telus spokesperson was quick to call Network World Canada and stipulate that Telus also offers managed WLAN services to enterprises, but only when customers request such services.

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