by CIO Staff

Special Report: Wireless , a Clear-Eyed View

Mar 15, 20012 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

You know the hype.

Wireless will change everything. And you know it’s not true. So we went looking for the here and now of wireless technology. What works and what doesn’t. Where the potholes are. The risks.

The truth is, wireless applications can be useful, but there are limits. At Celanese Chemicals in Dallas, handheld device-toting sales agents can tell their customers what’s really in stock right then and there. Handy, that, although the dollar ROI has yet to be determined (see “The Wisdom of Starting Small,” Page 80). CSX Technology, a railroad technology provider in Jacksonville, Fla., extended a Web-based shipment locator application to wireless device users–both customers and staff. Again, it’s nice to know where the boxcars are at any given moment, but the ROI has yet to materialize.

Security concerns, meanwhile, prevent CSX Technology from letting executives access e-mail from their handhelds–a wary attitude supported by our experience wandering Boston with a wireless modem (see “Time to Get Nervous,” Page 102). To get a consumer’s eye view, we sent a reporter to navigate Manhattan’s wireless scene armed with a Palm V, an OmniSky modem and an Internet-enabled mobile phone. She found her way around (and got dining tips from Zagat’s) but nearly lost her mind when she tried to make a purchase (see “Wireless in Manhattan,” Page 90).

As researchers such as MIT’s Michael Dertouzos foresee mobile wireless technologies becoming ubiquitous (see “The Invisible Ball and Chain,” Page 132), our reality-check survey showed most of you puzzling out familiar challenges such as systems integration, security and a hodgepodge of standards (see “Decidedly Not Gee Whiz,” Page 130). We also sought to learn from the experience of companies like United Parcel Service of America whose urgent business needs prompted it to explore the technology–without any standards for data transmission–back in the 1980s (see “Survival Tips from the Pioneers,” Page 114).

The wisdom gained from these early adopters and throughout these pages shouldn’t surprise you: Start small. Learn. Measure the risks. Ensure there’s a business benefit. Then go.