The All Wireless Workplace: What's It All About?

By  Susan Nunziata — October 07, 2008

The all-wireless workplace. It's not a new topic, yet, like the change of seasons, it seems to cycle back around every quarter or so.

It's a lively concept that engenders much debate. Not everybody even agrees on what it really means. Are we talking about a corporate campus that facilitates the maximum level of voice and data mobility for its workers by seamlessly integrating wireless handsets into the PBX system and enabling mobile data applications? Or, do we mean a full wireless environment across the entire enterprise, all the way back to the data center?

The definition varies, depending on whom you talk to, but one thing is certain: wireless devices are now part of our corporate computing environment, as RIM CTO For Software, David Yach, so aptly put it in his keynote address at Interop last month.

"The mobile device is fundamentally changing the pace at which we all work," Yach said.
Speaking with Mobile Enterprise following his keynote, Yach cites examples of processes, such as expense approvals, that can now be handled almost instantaneously.

As a result, information starts to move through an organization at a faster pace, says Yach. Mobility makes a lot of sense, he says, for certain applications, workflows, work orders, things that are suitable for a wireless device.

Indeed, enterprise application development will need to focus on offering maximum portability, according to Novell President/CEO Ron Hovsepian's Interop keynote. "The application will become the fundamental part that can move around inside your shop," he says.

"We're at a cusp here," says Cisco's Chris Kozup, Senior Manager Mobility Solutions. "We're in the proof-point phase."

The push for the adoption of mobility in the enterprise has been accelerated by the sheer number of devices coming into the workplace and onto the network, according to Kozup. "Most enterprises recognize the wave of devices from the user side, and that they have to meet that demand. People are now saying, 'Let me understand the technology and figure out how it can benefit my business.' "

Already Wireless Enterprises

Anthony Marano, a major fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Chicago, has been evolving its wireless workplace since 2000, says the company's CTO Chris Nowak. The latest iteration is a wireless network from Meru and an FMC solution from T-Mobile that uses an assortment of dual-mode smartphones for workers in its 40,000-square-foot warehouse and corporate offices.

The solution allows seamless handoff of voice calls plus mobile access to key business applications.

The bottom line: "We're always looking to have fewer calls go to voicemail, and to make the wireless handset experience the same inside and outside our four walls." While it's hard to measure ROI, Nowak says the company's sales are up 15% over the previous year with the same number of sales people.

In the future, "the wired network is really going to be the backup to the wireless network," says Ed Ivone, of Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, which is in the process of deploying the Siemens HiPath Wireless LANs in all its buildings, as well as upgrading to 802.11n. "All forms of technology that require some type of cable will eventually be wireless."

The next step, says the healthcare organization's Director of Networks & Telecommunications, Ed Ivone, is FMC solutions. With most healthcare workers mobile throughout the campus, an FMC solution that delivers full PBX functionality to wireless handhelds will be key.

Agito's Co-Founder and VP Marketing, Pej Roshan, says there's more awareness of fixed mobile convergence and mobile unified communication among enterprises now than there had been just a couple of years ago.

Hitachi Systems & Services, an Aruba Networks reseller in Japan, is practicing what it preaches. Earlier this year, the company deployed an all-wireless Aruba network at its 12-story Omori Building in Tokyo.

Instead of having assigned offices, the facility's 2,000 employees work from any workspace using an open-plan hoteling arrangement. Instead of fixed cabling, Wi-Fi data and voice communications are used; more than 1,000 NEC N902iL dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi phones are used for voice communications in the facility.

"Doing away with fixed corporate LAN data and phone cabling to desks eliminates the costs associated with our frequent personnel relocations and changing workgroup layouts," said Mr. Ishii, Hitachi Systems' Executive Officer and Deputy General Manager, Business Sector 3, in a prepared statement. "As a result we expect a substantially lower total cost of ownership for the Aruba network compared with a traditional wired LAN. These costs will be further reduced because Aruba's products are now certified as the common authentication infrastructure of the Hitachi Group. This allows us to make extensive use of dual-mode telephones for voice-over-Wi-Fi in-office calls, while using one common security policy across our branch offices and the Hitachi Group of companies. The Hitachi Omori Building is a model all-wireless office and an excellent demonstration space for customers."

Wireless To The Data Center?

"There's a hard ROI to utilizing wireless as your main network" says Kevin Goulet, Senior Director Product Marketing, Enterprise WLAN Division of Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Business. "All of us own a wired network and a wireless network on top of it. We firmly believe you can stop investing in that wired infrastructure."

Goulet adds that, "If an enterprise moves to 802.11n . . . the wired infrastructure isn't sized for that level of bandwidth, so you have to invest in both wired and wireless upgrades. We're proposing to utilize the power of wireless/mesh to take the signal back to the data center. Customers can save one fifth to one tenth the cost [by doing it this way]."

Security is actually less of an issue for a wireless network than you might think, argues Goulet. "Wireless today has far more tools and capabilities to secure a network than wired ever had," he says. "Most wired infrastructure is not protected. It's very easy to add a rogue AP" to a wired infrastructure.

The key, says Goulet, is that you have to design, deploy and plan for it. "Most CIOs put wireless into the enterprise as a luxury, and that's how it grew," says Goulet. "That's not the right way to architect a business critical network."

While Cisco's Kozup agrees that security is no longer viewed as a barrier to wireless, he dismisses the idea of wireless all the way to the data center. "I think you would be hard-pressed to find any Fortune 1000 company to run wireless all the way to the data center..

Adds Maryam Zand, Global Mobility Product Manager with HP ProCurve (which recently closed its deal to acquire Colubris Networks), "It's not the end of the Ethernet wired port.
"As wireless becomes more pervasive, we need to have more integration. From the customer perspective, they just want one connectivity experience. We're seeing demands from the end-user perspective. The notion of connectivity anywhere, anytime was introduced at the turn of this century. It took time for it to be mainstream. Workers now want freedom, but they also want certainty and trust."

From a business standpoint, says Zand, it's all about efficiency, increasing productivity of your workforce, reducing the complexity of your architecture, creating unified security, and making it all easier to manage."

Kozup says he's seeing consistent, strong demand for wireless as the primary access medium for the workers. "It's more accurate to say the 'All Mobile Office,' spelling out the clear use cases of where the concept makes sense."


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