You're expecting, or hoping, that wireless and mobile computing for the enterprise will get simpler to figure out.

You're dreaming.

That's the word from the annual Gartner Mobile & Wireless Summit this year in Orlando. The advice from Gartner analysts to several hundred enterprise attendees in session after session boiled down to: "Uncertainty reigns. Plan accordingly."

Cell operators must get creative
Gartner Fellow Nick Jones encouraged attendees to hammer out innovative wireless contracts with cellular carriers. But then Jones mentioned that it took one British CIO 12 months to get just a straight data contract from his cellular carrier. Apparently, data minus useless bells and whistles was a bit too innovative for the vendor.

Wireless networks are becoming ubiquitous, he said, as 3G cell networks and wireless LANs (WLANs) become more prevalent. But he also said that network latency on cellular data networks will remain a problem for years, potentially crippling a range of real-time applications.

Jones predicted sophisticated applications for the future as prices for cellular radio components, such as those of WLANs, continue to drop. Soon, it will be inexpensive enough to put cellular connectivity into commercial freezers, copying machines and other gear, enabling machine-to-machine telemetry and monitoring.

Users want to give mobile access
But many attendees seemed to be still focused on much more basic projects, where ROI is either easily calculated or accepted as a given - simply creating wireless access to data, or turning paper business processes into electronic wireless transactions.

Acuity, an insurer from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is evaluating how to give field-claims adjusters wireless access to corporate applications, possibly with a laptop fitted with a cellular network interface card, said Tina Pokrzywinski, director of IS. "We're due for a technology upgrade," she said. "And our CIO says, 'Wireless is coming, and we need to be ready.'"

Two managers from a Midwest manufacturer, who asked not to be identified, are researching options for creating a mobile-salesforce automation application.

"Our salespeople want to finish off one call report on the way to their next customer, rather than waiting until the end of the day and working late to do it," said one of them, who manages e-business systems for the company. "We're trying to recapture all that idle time and make them more productive."

"What we're finding is that nothing is 100 percent ready for prime time," his colleague said.

And security is still a worry
Wireless security remains a major issue for attendees, and Gartner analysts were not encouraging. Gartner Vice President John Pescatore ran through a list of supply-chain activities, ranging from R&D and CRM to marketing and shopping, all of which face new vulnerabilities as mobile computing makes it easier for sensitive customer, personal and corporate data to end up on insecure smart phones, PDAs, laptops and MP3 players.

ExxonMobil Exploration, based in Dallas, is authenticating the growing numbers of mobile and wireless clients via the public-key infrastructure (PKI) and certificate authority implemented globally a few years ago.

Originally, PKI was deployed to enable every company employee to be authenticated to a network via a smart card, said Ryan Jarvis, a manager of the company's upstream technical computing group. "The smart cards authenticate the users; PKI lets us authenticate the machines," he said.

"We get people who go home and play with devices they got for Christmas, and they want to bring these onto our network," he said. With PKI, "we can say, 'You're an ExxonMobil machine, and you're not.'"

Devices will diverge - not converge
Don't expect the surging numbers of client devices, with the bewildering choices of operating systems and application frameworks such as Java2Micro Edition and Microsoft .Net, to moderate any time soon, warned Gartner Vice President Ken Dulaney. This year alone, he says he expects at least 80 new cell phones to debut offering cellular and 802.11b wireless connectivity.

"Device convergence will not happen," he told a packed afternoon session. "Proliferation will just get worse."

So will the ability for these increasingly capable devices, and wireless connectivity, to circumvent IT control. "The technology available for users to get around IT is really breathtaking," he said.

One IT manager for a retailer with stores in six states said wireless is creating huge liability risks if it makes personal customer data potentially more vulnerable.

"I want to be able to go to any of our stores in those six states, open my laptop and jump on my network," he said. "But I can't let any bad guys do the same thing.

"If [wireless] security gets to the point where it's not 'in your face,' then it's probably not working," he said.