What's In Your Wireless Future?
As wireless technology continues to progress, channel companies need to stay up to date with more than just hardware.
Think about what wireless technology you were selling five years ago. For most VARs and integrators, the answer is probably none. Today, though, content management, storage, point of sale, and supply chain VARs are all profiting from wireless solutions. In fact, wireless technology expertise is now expected from most channel companies. Your challenge is to explain the real value of your type of wireless expertise and overcome end users' misperceptions of the technology. For instance, some people think WLANs (wireless LANs) are inherently secure, whether used at home or at a business. I'm sure we've all heard the story of the employee who purchased an access point (AP) at a local electronics store and connected it to his office network, thereby opening up the network to hackers. Just because a wireless product is branded with the WiFi logo (indicating compliance with 802.11 standards), or more recently the "Verified with Intel Centrino Mobile Technology" label, doesn't mean it's a fit for all environments. It's up to a VAR to explain the differences between enterprise and SOHO (small office home office) APs and the corresponding security needs.
Actually, security and interoperability issues are some of today's hottest WLAN concerns. Your enterprise customers are likely going to know about WEP (wireless encryption protocol) and its flaws. So, what are you going to suggest for additional wireless security? A VPN (virtual private network)? Biometric authentication? An intrusion detection appliance?
Many channel companies offer WLAN security audits as a value-added service. Part of these audits can include using a wireless network analyzer (e.g. handheld or personal digital assistant) for identifying a network's signal strength, access points' service set identifiers, and packet error rate. Using these types of units for sporadic network checks is valuable, but installing a constant wireless network analyzer is probably the best solution.
And what about those sticky interoperability issues? A lot of WLAN hardware is proprietary, making add-on sales difficult when trying to sell APs incompatible with the existing solution. Similar concerns are also encountered when an 802.11b WLAN is used in the same environment as Bluetooth technology (both operate in the 2.4 GHz band). In these instances, positioning the APs at least 30 feet away from the Bluetooth devices is a good start. You can also configure the APs to maintain a specific high data rate or - if all else fails - switch to 802.11a APs (operating in the 5 GHz band).
WWAN Demand Increasing
Of course a VAR's wireless expertise shouldn't stop at WLANs. Enterprise wireless wide area networks (WWANs) are in great demand these days considering the number of mobile workers. People want to stay connected to their company's network whether they are sitting at their desks or inspecting a valve on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. With WWANs, VARs need to understand cellular network coverage areas, airtime rate plans, and how to port enterprise applications to the small screen of a mobile computing device like a handheld. For instance, the September issue of Business Solutions featured $12 million integrator Mobile Computing Corp. (MCC) (Toronto), which developed a field force automation solution for Sheetz convenience stores using Verizon's CDMA (code division multiple access) network. The project, which streamlined operations/communications associated with the company's team of service technicians, required significant software integration skills as well as an understanding of wireless carriers. According to Richard Blasko, general manager of the Mobile Systems Division at MCC, sales are up for his company's field force automation solutions. "Even though there was a recent drought in this market, falling hardware prices, new low-cost/high-bandwidth cellular data networks, open standards, and increased end user awareness have dropped the price of FFA solutions by about 50% in recent years," he says.
So you don't have the wireless expertise of MCC. So what. You can always partner with someone who does or attend an education program offered by a vendor or distributor. Remember, the wireless market has changed a lot in the past five years. PCs are now shipping with support for not one, but three (802.11a/b/c) wireless network standards. More companies are seeking real-time data and mobile computing solutions. Are you ready for the future of your technology or still living in the past?