Securing and Maximizing Wireless Investments

— December 01, 2006

The right connectivity choices will keep your mobile workers effective, while also protecting your assets.

Most organizations today have equipped their mobile professionals with laptops that include at least WiFi wireless connectivity as an option. Others have deployed handheld devices to get email access on the go. After loading some VPN software or setting up secure email access, your workers are ready for the road. Right?

Don't be so sure. While often cheap and widely available, don't assume that wireless connectivity is an easy thing. And never assume that your mobile workers are consuming air time for free. Gartner recently presented some sobering numbers on this topic, estimating that more than two-thirds of remote access costs are buried within expense reports. Even worse, 90 percent of that cost is analog access minutes. Yes, analog. It seems like dialup access is still alive and kicking.

While it's not so hard to find an unsecured WiFi connection and tap in (significant legal issues aside), this raises very real concerns regarding security. Workers may think they are protected by the company VPN, but this open approach exposes mobile devices to hackers, who can tap into devices before your employees have even connected to the VPN. Some hacker backdoors are smart enough to look like a real service, with a flash screen mimicking the real thing, and your workers could unknowingly be giving their credit card numbers away.

Better than leaving your traveling employees to fend for themselves, you'd be smart to provide them upfront with smarter and more economical alternatives.

WiFi vs. 3G
If your employees are on the road just six days out of a typical month, and their WiFi connection costs are getting buried in expense reports, you are probably losing money. In this situation, it pays to consider subscribing to either Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel and getting high-speed data access for a fixed fee of around $60 per month. You also get the advantage of having the freedom of access in more places and not being tied to your WiFi hotspot location.

Luckily, many hardware vendors are including the wireless modem required for 3G inside both laptops and Ultra Mobile PCs. The Lenovo Z60 series was the first to include built-in 3G hardware, and HP, Dell and others will soon be following this trend. Laptops lacking internal 3G hardware can use PC Cards such those offered by Sierra Wireless. Two of the most recent Sierra Wireless 3G cards include the AirCard 860 and the AirCard 595. The AirCard 860 is a Type II PC Card that works on HSDPA, transmits data at speeds up to 1.8 Mbps and is backward compatible to UMTS, EDGE, GPRS and GSM. The AirCard 595 PC Card works on the latest CDMA EV-DO Revision A network offered by Sprint Nextel and provides peak data rates of 3.1 Mbps on the downlink and up to 1.8 Mbps on the uplink. The 595 also offers the new patent pending design of a highly efficient and receptive fixed antenna. All of these 3G connectivity options can provide both better wireless coverage and faster speeds at a lower price than WiFi connectivity.
Another cost management option comes from iPass, which has bundled all the components for a safe connection into a single service that allows mobile workers to access the world's largest virtual network of wireless, broadband and 3G services and manage these costs under a single billing structure. The iPass Virtual Office offers policy-controlled, secure access to 62,000 WiFi global hotspots and dial-up service in more than 160 countries. Integrated into Virtual Office are also options for 2.5/3G services from the wireless carriers. And in addition to U.S. wireless carriers, agreements for carrier coverage in China, Japan and Hong Kong have recently been announced. For the mobile office user, add in an option for fixed broadband service across North America and you've covered all the options for off-site connectivity of your mobile workers.
The iPass mobile connection service provides a "boot to shutdown" Internet lockdown with the added ability to protect stolen laptops with an over-the-air wipe feature. Add to this the ability to spare the user from complex connection configurations (they'll thank you for it), while limiting their access to only the approved iPass virtual network, and you get not only a secure remote solution but a self service system that will reduce your support costs as well.

For U.S. customers the iPass solution runs $30 per user per month, and that includes unlimited WiFi and dialup service. A secure managed cable/DSL service for home access is also available at a cost of $105 per user per month; the additional cost of an optional 3G service is not included but can be integrated into the product.

Wireless in Hand
Now let's look at those other road warriors, who have left their laptops behind and chosen to "just do email" on handheld devices. If email is the beginning and end of your mobile and wireless strategy, you'll soon be losing ground to your competitors as they recognize the value of extending wireless applications that tie into their backend systems.

If the RIM BlackBerry, for example, is a key part of your wireless strategy, do yourself a favor and look into the collection of tools available for connecting your BlackBerry to backend CRM/ERP systems, managing your IT infrastructure, doing real-time tracking with a Bluetooth GPS system, creating forms and more. Just because the BlackBerry does email well doesn't mean that's all it can do. So in addition to controlling your remote access costs, it's important to also leverage your current wireless assets better. It's amazing the number of organizations that aren't leveraging the BlackBerry to do more than just email.

For example, installing an offering such as Idokorro, a mobile access solution, on your BlackBerry gives you complete, wireless remote management over most services in your IT infrastructure. The product allows wireless, remote management of Microsoft Windows Servers, IIS, Exchange, SQL Servers, Domino, Active Directory, Novell, Oracle, Citrix and more. This is just one of the many applications that can produce real value when a laptop isn't the device of choice.

So, there are two options for increasing the value of your wireless and mobile workforce: one, leverage the use of your mobile devices, and two, dig in, discover and manage your remote access. Failing to leverage your wireless devices beyond email will mean missing out on opportunities. However, fail to manage your remote access costs, and not only are you jeopardizing your data, but you're letting lost dollars disappear into thin air as well. //

Francis Rabuck is the president of Rabuck Associates, a Philadelphia-based technology consulting firm.

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