Building a wireless infrastructure today requires future-proofing and flexible standards. With all of the hype surrounding the wireless Internet and its promises of anytime, anywhere information availability, businesses are beginning to exploit the potential of this great medium.
Converting IT systems to wireless devices — cellular phones, PDAs, and handheld computers — creates a new delivery channel, broadening accessibility to applications, services, and information. This additional degree of freedom will help reshape the way transactions are conducted, both for employees and customers.
Alas, this is still the future. Because of developing standards, limited devices, and insufficient tools, the benefits of implementing wireless at this stage will be difficult at best. In general, unless you are currently working with partners or a vendor product that is already WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)-enabled, your company would be best advised to stay out of the wireless market at least until after the first half of 2001.
Moving to a wireless, information-on-demand system will take some planning and an investment in standards that are still being proven. If you are intent on entering this new marketplace, take every precaution to remain flexible.
At first glance, creating a wireless infrastructure appears to be a straightforward process, and it is. But the devil is in the details. Complicating the transition to wireless is the large variety of client devices with limited display capabilities, processing power, memory capacity, and input capabilities. In addition, today’s second generation network technologies are short on bandwidth and QoS (quality of service) assurances. In effect, the new wireless world is something of a throwback to the Internet of the late 1980s.
Questions are also surrounding WAP, the essential open standard being used to bridge the worlds of wireless and the Internet. WAP has taken some shots for lacking proficiency at delivering higher throughput content and for inadequate security, although the latter shortcoming has recently been amended in the WAP specification.
Competing standards such as iMode from NTT Mobile Communications Network (DoCoMo) have become very popular in Japan due to their relative ease of use, and new XML standards such as Multi-channel Application. XML from Curious Networks promises superior service over 3G (third generation) wireless connections.
The reality of WAP, however, is that it has been making great strides and gaining acceptance both stateside and in Europe. The next revision, Version 2.0, due for approval by mid-2001, is slated to include specifications for migrating the technology base to XHTML (Extensible HTML) and TCP in order to further simplify application delivery. Provisions are also included for streaming media, animation, and color graphics, which will all stand a more realistic chance of being delivered adequately as 3G wireless becomes pervasive, increasing the throughput rate from 9.6KBps to 14.4KBps.
Although there is some skepticism currently about WAP, its ability to interface wireless with wired networks make it seem slated for the future. The cost of transforming your Web site to co-deliver WAP gateway information, as well as needing to test across a variety of devices, makes rolling out new applications a nightmare. Even attempts at consumer wireless are somewhat cost prohibitive.
For in-house and business-to-business use, WAP is finding its home on shop floors and in SFA (sales-force automation). For internal needs, companies can afford to be less focused on unreliable standards and can more easily agree upon defined delivery architecture. Creating a mobile technical architecture that can seamlessly deliver end-to-end services into back-end business logic will require several key components: tools for transcoding your data into a standard XML framework, a WAP gateway, security and personalization capabilities, and a wireless application development kit. In each case, the solution you choose should be flexible enough to adapt to an uncertain future.
A variety of transcoding applications is on the market; ScoutWare from Aether Software and WebSphere Transcoding Publisher from IBM, for instance, but most are still immature and their scalability is questionable. Enabling the separation of data from format structure will be imperative for reducing the complexities of the project.
You must then select a WAP gateway. The WAP gateway acts as a data and protocol converter between the wireless and wired networks. The cost of launching a private WAP gateway can span a cost from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the gateway’s complexity and features. Naturally, more capable solutions, such as Motorola’s MIX gateway, which integrates voice and data access (www.mot.com), and specialized solutions, such as the Nokia Everyplace solution for Lotus Domino, can escalate costs. In order to avoid the hefty startup costs involved in building your own, your company might tap the services of a wireless service provider or settle for your carrier’s gateway.
Improvements in the WAP specification will provide better end-to end encryption capability, from the handset to the server. WAP’s WTLS (Wireless Transport Layer Security) is modeled on TLS, a revision of popular SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption. Previously, during the decryption and re-encryption process of transporting data through the gateway, information was left shortly exposed in memory. Although the risk was minimal, it nonetheless presented the potential for a security breach.
For companies building financial or e-commerce applications, the need for complete privacy is paramount. PKI (public key infrastructure) companies such as Baltimore and RSA are also securing wireless communications through their Telepathy and Bsafe products, respectively.
Access control is another area of concern. The best theft deterrents will not work if you leave your keys in the ignition. Companies should create a security policy that requires employees to account for the whereabouts of their wireless devices on a frequent basis, and they should establish procedures for swiftly deactivating any device reported missing.
Security and device identification create a great opportunity for personalizing the delivery of applications and content. Personalization provides an essential advantage for circumventing the awkward data entry screens of wireless devices. A properly deployed identification scheme will enable delivery of targeted, user specific data, even presented through a portal interface that will help reduce the number of transmissions required to reach a necessary application.
Harry H. Husted is a contributing writer at MedioCom.net. This well designed and easy to navigate site has quality and affordable feature stories, articles and images. You can pick and choose from a wide variety of timely and relevant topics, all easily accessed through www.mediocom.net. All services are provided in English and Spanish. Check it out today!