As part of Network World's IT Roadmap conference, analyst Craig Mathias of Farpoint Group presented wireless technology as a strategic enabler in the enterprise. With the promise to deliver information to employees regardless of where they are, implementing wireless technology has become a top priority among enterprises -though it's not without challenges.

In a preview of his IT Roadmap keynote presentation in Boston on March 20, Mathias recently spoke with Network World Senior Editor Cara Garretson to explain why wireless technology has such an impact on the enterprise.

Why is wireless communications crucial for businesses?
The key to your business is information, being able to act on it faster than your competition, that's what wireless is all about. Getting information when and where you need it, and being able to act on it.

Also, there's greater availability of the technology at ever-lower prices, so clearly there's an incentive for end users to investigate the possibility of the technology. And once they do, IT managers need to know about it. We call this the Mac effect, when people started wanting to use Macs to do their jobs - it's the same thing with cell phones, people use their cell phones for enterprise purposes. Once you go wireless you don't go back to wire, IT needs to know about it to support end user demand.

Prices continue to fall. Wireless LAN adapters used to cost US$1,400, now they're free. Cell phones were originally thousands of dollars, now they're free.

But what's good for the user isn't necessarily good for the IT manager. How do you manage this stuff?
There's no real uniformity in these devices yet, so it's not like managing a wired network. From a help desk perspective people who bring in their own phones, you can't help them. We encourage enterprises to standardise on one or two phones. But who trains the trainer? How do you stay up to date on this? That's significant.

And how do you decide who in the organisation should go wireless?
It begins with an information policy. What information does the enterprise have, who needs to get to it, to access it, and under what circumstances. There's not that much information that needs to be available to all that many people, really it's a function of what information needs to be accessed by whom, when, and at what cost? It's not a black and white thing,

For example, a BlackBerry can be a status thing, but it also can be an electronic leash. One complaint we get is "I'm always available!" There was a court case about a guy who had to work eight straight days - I suppose he was on call with his BlackBerry. It changes the whole relationship of employee to employer. I think in many cases these devices can put forth an environment of tyranny, are we enabling an environment that's counterproductive in the long run? Reasonable companies won't let it get out of control.

What's hot in wireless today?
One really hot topic right now is VoIP. Just as we're going to VoIP on wired lines, we're doing it on wireless lines too, not on cell phones but VoIP over Wi-Fi or what we call VoFi, and there are a lot of products appearing on the market. It's the convergence of voice and data, moving almost entirely to wireless for interacting.

Another thing is WiMax. There are a lot of misunderstandings around WiMax, or fixed microwave. It's used for Internet access in rural areas, offshore, between buildings, etc. The fixed version is for Internet access, the mobile version of WiMax is twenty years away.

Then there's wireless USB, that's basically a personal network in your coat pocket.

The demand for both consumer and enterprise wireless technology seems unending today, when will it taper off?
The demand for wireless won't go down unless it causes brain tumors. Something's going to kill you eventually, but it's probably not cell phones.