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What is wireless?

01 May 2007

Tips, opinion and opportunitiesWell, depending on what part of the market you play in there’s a variety of definitions. Wireless technology ranges from the simple – networking without wires – through to communications, monitoring or control systems in which electromagnetic, or acoustic, waves carry a signal through atmospheric space rather than along a wire. There’s no doubt that wireless technologies and products now touch every part of the market and includes semiconductors, access devices, software as well as applications and services.

*  NetgearJames Caldwell, Netgear country manager, says wireless used to be one topic – now it’s about six different topics. “Our traditional wireless products have become commodity items and are literally flying out the door. These days no one thinks twice about having a wireless network at home or the office,” he says. At the same time Caldwell says demand for the higher-end 802.11n products is picking up and he describes it as the next big thing for business networking. Savvy resellers, he says, will find plenty of opportunity for the products. Netgear is also set to release a wireless switch that simplifies the management of large numbers of access points. One of the key concerns in the market at the moment is the use of devices in the workplace and the associated security risks. Liam Gunson, IDC senior hardware analyst, says wireless will continue to impact the New Zealand security market as adoption increases and people with malicious intent become more adept at exploiting network and wireless security solutions. “This is closely linked with the physical and information security aspects of mobile technologies that are proliferating within organisations at present,” he says. Gunson says that as companies develop more robust security policies, they will begin to have more influence over the types of devices employees use. He predicts the current trend of employees purchasing and using their own devices within the organisation will begin to diminish and says this may well impact on the consumer market, particularly where smart handheld devices are concerned. “It’s generally agreed that businesses are becoming increasingly concerned about the levels of security required in handheld and mobile devices and are beginning to recognise this as part of the overall cost of doing business in a widely distributed, increasingly wireless ebusiness environment.”*  SonicWallWireless networking offers a multitude of benefits however one of the downsides is its vulnerability to intrusion. Chris Barton, Sonicwall ANZ regional manager, says there is a real requirement for security around wireless infrastructure especially with the massive growth in the mobile workforce. “I believe wireless security is the last great security hole for New Zealand businesses. In the past it’s been far too complicated for end users to handle and yet a major breach has the potential to derail a mobile workforce,” he says. In some cases up to 90% of an organisation’s data can be held remotely, says Barton, however he points out there are also in-house risks. “From a wireless LAN perspective a business needs to ensure that its information can’t be intercepted from the office next door.”With the introduction of 3G networks Barton says organisations will suddenly be faced with a large number of users with a variety of different means to connect remotely to them. He says Sonicwall’s TZ190 series provides the same security capability as other products in the range but now enables an organisation to establish secure 3G wireless broadband access in any location by inserting an approved wireless PC card in the slot. In particular Barton says the TZ190 is suited to construction, retail, border control or emergency services applications where flexibility, reliability and speed of installation are priorities. “The real benefit for partners is that it can be managed remotely using Sonicwall’s Global Management System (GMS) which lends itself to part of a managed service offering.”Barton admits that the managed service model isn’t suited to everyone in the channel as it requires embracing a new business model and a significant investment in training and technology. Regardless of their business model Barton says partners should endeavour to make wireless security as painless as possible for their customers.

*  MicrosoftOf course there’s always the lighter side of wireless with the pleasures of removing the spaghetti of cables that clutter the office and home. Danica Aitken, Microsoft NZ product marketing manager, has one of the more enviable jobs in the industry as she gets her hands on the latest wireless gadgets. Aitken says there’s a definite preference in the market for wireless peripherals, especially as the cost of products continue to come down. The huge rise in notebook sales has also seen a large increase in wireless peripheral sales, says Aitken, who adds that resellers are doing a fantastic job of attach-selling to customers. She also notes there have been an increasing number of large volume wireless product sales to system builders who are clearly selling bundled solutions. “In the past wireless products weren’t as fast but now we’re getting super fast speeds which means the user experience is that much better, as is accuracy,” she says. Aitken says consumers and businesses are quickly embracing the wireless world. “The freedom of wireless and mobility go hand-in-hand and Microsoft continues to introduce high-tech products at an affordable price.”

*  HP

When you ask Simon Molloy, HP market development manager, commercial notebooks and handhelds, what his interpretation of wireless is there’s a bit of a pause. “There’s such a huge range of technologies that I think it just comes down to the ability to work without wires. Admittedly most people connect wireless with their ability to access the internet,” he says. In the past three years Molloy has seen the end user perception of wireless change from ‘nice to have’ to an everyday requirement in new purchases.“All HP notebooks – from entry-level to the high end models – have wireless technology. A lot of people will make a purchase because they believe they want wireless, but many of them don’t have a clue what it really is or how to use it.” “The interest is there and it’s a chance for resellers to help explain, especially to their business customers, how the technology works.”Although convenient – Molloy himself is an absolute convert to the wireless home network – there is a high level of concern about security. Molloy says that while many businesses have already moved to wireless technology and are enjoying the benefits there is still a large number who remain wary of it. “That’s understandable; there is a significant amount of infrastructure required to support it, there is a lot of debate around standards and then you’ve got the security aspect on top. Rather than being a deterrent though, that’s where partners can step in and really add value by consulting to their customers.”Another huge growth area is the release of notebooks embedded with Vodafone broadband wireless capability. Molloy says future notebook releases will ship with the embedded capability while at present it’s an optional extra on the HP Compaq nc6400 Notebook. “It’s proven to be very popular and those businesses with a large mobile workforce have been the most excited about it.”Of course one of the ultimate wireless devices is HP’s iPAQ Pocket PC. In New Zealand, enterprise customers make up the bulk of purchasers as the device is very application-driven. Ben Boumgarten, HP market development manager, says iPAQ and other PDAs are strongest in vertical markets. Another key advantage, says Boumgarten, is the ability to now lock down the system if the device gets lost or stolen and send a signal to wipe all data off the device.