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Mobile & Wireless World: Wireless moves into the enterprise

But careful planning is needed before deployment

By Bob Brewin
May 21, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Enterprises no longer see wireless as a novelty technology, but as a maturing IT tool that can be used to serve customers better and boost the productivity of an increasingly mobile workforce, according to top IT managers slated to speak next week at the Computerworld Mobile & Wireless World conference.
Richard Dean, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said companies recognize wireless technology as "a significant productivity-enhancement tool" that still has a way to go before reaching its full potential. "We're still in the third inning."
To avoid a strikeout, Gary Bullock, network solutions project manager at The Allstate Corp. in Northbrook, Ill., said companies first need to determine what kinds of wireless and mobile technologies meet their business requirements, a process that took Allstate two years.
Bullock emphasized that mobile and wireless systems need to be integrated with existing IT infrastructures. For example, Allstate has provided handheld computers equipped with cellular General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) to 400 "very mobile" executives. The machines operate at a data rate of 20K to 40Kbit/sec. Rollout of the devices has been coordinated with Allstate's desktop and laptop team, Bullock said, since handhelds synchronize with data stored on workers' computers.
While GPRS provides relatively slow data speeds, Bullock said it is fast enough for the handhelds to send and receive thin data files, including e-mail, and contact and calendar information.
Allstate is also beginning to equip field service workers who use larger applications and need higher data rates -- such as auto insurance claims adjusters -- with cellular modems for their laptops based on the cellular Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) 1X standard. The standard can provide throughput of between 50Kbit/sec. and 70Kbit/sec. Bullock declined to identify Allstate's hardware or network providers.
Allstate has to date equipped about 2,000 workers with the CDMA laptop cards, and user satisfaction so far is high. Users would give up their cellular modem cards only "if I pried them from their hands," Bullock said.
The purchase of cellular airtime is integrated with other telecommunications services Allstate buys, allowing the company to "take advantage of economies of scale," he said.
He also noted that Allstate has started to install Wi-Fi in its offices, including at its headquarters, as an overlay to the wired data networks already in place. Designed to serve conference and meeting rooms as well as office space for visiting workers, the Wi-Fi deployment has been coordinated with the IT group that handles wired data networks, Bullock said.
Jay Brummett, chief technology officer for the city of Ogden, Utah, also opted for CDMA 1x

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