When it comes to wireless networking, unanimity worries me, and maybe it should worry you too. Take it as read that the wireless market is undergoing a boom at the moment. Every week, a new story reports research that reflects boundless optimism about its future growth, so much so that you might be forgiven for wondering whether it's time to just rip out that tired, old wired network and replace it with a shiny new wireless LAN.
Hyped to the ether
Remember that there are few success stories in IT at the moment so it's hardly surprising that those that do exist hit the spotlights big time. Vendors with a perfectly legitimate desire to sell more product will commission reports that put them in a favourable light.
Little UK-only research exists with regards to WLANs but there's plenty that comes out of the US. One such emanates from NOP, which conducted a poll asking employers and employees of large enterprises what productivity gains they'd experienced after installing WLANs. This much-quoted survey suggested that huge amounts of time could be saved because such a network allowed executives and other knowledge workers to walk about with their laptops to talk to people. They could walk into the office and be instantly connected.
Is life really like that? The people whose work is interrupted by an executive walking over and demanding instant attention may not see it that way. They may be buried deep in a task requiring intense concentration. They need to shut down external communications for a while to get on with it and email allows them to manage their time in a way that allows them to do this. With a WLAN-equipped executive walking up to their desk, they are now more interruptible, which does little for their productivity.
But how long does it take to set up an Ethernet connection these days? Plug a cable into your laptop and a modern operating system such as Windows XP will connect you in seconds.
The growth in WLANs is happening, and the technology does deliver benefits in many situations, especially in many vertical applications and where setup and tear-down time are at a premium. However, before expecting the much-vaunted growth in productivity in a normal office situation, grab a bag of salt. Without careful thought and management, corporate WLANs can become something of an executive status symbol rather than a system for improving the productivity of everyone in the enterprise. Apply with care.
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