Wireless networks: The key to a mobile and agile business

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Stuart Scott, Director of Marketing & Business Development for Intermec Technologies assesses the business value of wireless technology.

Wireless local area networks (WLANs) are uniquely positioned today to support corporate enterprise client/server efforts to extend the reach of information systems to the front lines of business operations. Designed to address the various issues associated with placing mobile computers in the hands of mobile front line workers, wireless networks function as a transparent extension to existing distributed, wired enterprise computing networks. Built to be flexible, scaleable, and modular, the architecture of a wireless network needs to be unparalleled in its ability to seamlessly migrate from today's solution to tomorrow's technology.

There is an abundance of mobile computers presently in the market, which address a host of business needs. Hand held or forklift-truck mounted units are leading the way for wireless applications in retail, transport and logistics, manufacturing and consumer goods markets. But wireless communications need not be limited to merely supporting hand held terminals and specific vendor offerings. Customers are able to select the best of breed and incorporate a variety of components into a single wireless solution. Technology has advanced to the point where a well-designed wireless infrastructure can support any vendor's standard ISA bus radio boards, PCMCIA radio network interface cards and RS232 radios. Wireless systems also allow customers to connect virtually any communications component to the network, including PCs, time and attendance systems, scales, monitors and printers.

Standardisation of technology and features like radio media independence gives the end user the flexibility to select the best radio technology today while maintaining a migration path to the future.

WLANs support virtually all approaches to back end application connectivity with a true open systems approach. This is accomplished through the support of industry standard operating systems, languages and protocols, enabling applications to be designed with the same tools and techniques used for the desktop environment. They eliminate the need for specialised knowledge of proprietary wireless APIs, libraries, and techniques required by other systems. This is attained by true protocol independence on the network infrastructure, providing a transparent communication pipe from back-end LAN-based systems to the mobile front line computers.

The infrastructure of WLANs consists of the radio and the access point (wireless network hardware). The access point provides wireless connectivity to mobile computers by bridging radio traffic from these devices onto the wired enterprise LAN. In the past, a lack of standards forced customers to buy all of the hardware components from a single vendor. This is no longer the case. Standardisation of technology and features like radio media independence gives the end user the flexibility to select the best radio technology today while maintaining a migration path to the future.

The major issue in radio technology decisions involves range versus speed trade-offs, with faster radios also having reduced communication ranges. Higher speed radios therefore significantly increase system costs, as a 50 per cent reduction in the range of a radio results in a requirement of four times the number of access points to cover the same area. The premium paid for future capacity is wasted if radio technology advancements occur before the need for the additional capacity evolves. With an embedded radio in the access point, the entire infrastructure will need to be replaced to take advantage of new radios, thereby failing to provide a return on the initial investment.

there is a trend towards complex networks supporting more applications and more users. But typically, the number of people supporting and maintaining these networks is actually decreasing.

Since the radio range of an access point is limited, coverage over large areas is accomplished using multiple access points. These access points are installed to provide adjacent areas of coverage ensuring that as a device moves out of the range of one access point, it moves into the range of another. The wireless link with the mobile computer is seamlessly and transparently handed off from access point to access point, without impact on the device's connection to the wired enterprise LAN.

Within most organisations, there is a trend towards complex networks supporting more applications and more users. But typically, the number of people supporting and maintaining these networks is actually decreasing. Add to this scenario the blurring between wired and wireless solutions, and you further complicate the matter with roaming and batch versus real-time client/server requirements. Therefore, it is increasingly important that a cohesive network management strategy be implemented and that industry standard tools, platforms and applications are used to seamlessly manage wired and wireless infrastructure.

WLANs provide open system solutions designed for front-line mobile computing in the real world. The media independence offered by wireless technology provides network freedom, scalability and flexibility to meet unique customer needs. The extensive range of WLANs products offered on the market today means that system designers can select the most appropriate radio technology for today's needs and have a clean and simple migration path to solve tomorrow's needs with tomorrow's technology.

Stuart Scotts diverse career has enabled him to gain a wealth of experience, which in turn has led to him becoming a sought after and respected player in the world of IT. As an individual he has a thorough understanding of the industry and can work in unison with his team, partners and clients, taking full responsibility for everything from budget through to sales and marketing. Another of his key responsibilities includes building Intermecs alliance programmes to develop the supply chain specialists expanding network of global business partners. He has also been instrumental in positioning Intermec as an emerging leader in radio frequency identification (RFID).

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