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Wireless isn't ready yet, say IT executives

Wireless networks and technologies must become more standardised and reliable before the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) will even consider porting key applications to mobile devices.

Speaking at CeBIT America 2003 conference,  Martin Colburn, chief technology officer at NASD, said the wireless maturity problem has been exacerbated by the economic downturn in the telecoms industry, resulting in an underinvestment in research and development for some next-generation wireless technologies.

NASD, which regulates the Nasdaq stock market, uses wireless handheld devices for e-mail and to distribute spreadsheet-based certification exams to its member firms. But Colburn said it would be at least two to three years before suppliers offer industrial-strength systems which can run vital transactions.

"When we look at total cost of ownership, we haven't seen the economies of scale and haven't seen the infrastructure there to [justify] making the investment," Colburn said.

However, Schneider National is using mobile technologies in its trucking and logistics businesses. The $2.8bn (£1.7bn) transportation firm was ahead of the curve in 1988 when it implemented a two-way, geostationary satellite communications system to track its fleet of trucks.

Paul Mueller, vice-president of technology services at Schneider, said the satellite system has helped the company provide its customers with better visibility of goods that are in transit. But, he added, the company has had a much harder time finding the right wireless system to help track and manage the 45,000 trailers hooked up to its trucks.

Schneider has looked at a plethora of wireless systems since 1995, including low-band satellite and cellular technologies. But each time it considered a particular technology, the suppliers in question went belly-up, Mueller said.

Schneider expected to make a decision within the next few months on a trailer management system based on either satellite or multimode cellular access technologies.

Wireless Retail, which sells wireless products and services through retailers, has been using mobile technologies within its own operations to help business managers track sales.

Each night, when all the stores that sell its products have closed, Wireless Retail uses a wireless system to send a snapshot of daily sales data to top executives, who receive the reports on their handheld devices and notebook PCs, said Wireless Retail chief information officer, Chris McMahan.

Even though wireless products are the company's lifeblood, McMahan acknowledged that Wireless Retail also faces challenges in adopting the technology more widely for business uses.

With handheld devices, "you can't send and receive e-mail easily or conduct transactions easily", he said. "I think we're still in the midst of the maturation of the market and of people becoming comfortable using them."

Thomas Hoffman writes for ComputerWorld


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