Click for larger view.
The slower speeds of the competing EDGE (enhanced data GSM environment) service used by Cingular have caused early adopters to use it more as an adjunct connection technology rather than as a primary one. For example, users at Halton -- a Pacific Northwest dealer of Caterpillar vehicles -- rely on wired and Wi-Fi connections where possible, but use the roughly 100Kbps Cingular EDGE network when faster networks aren’t available. Despite the slower speeds, “they use it wherever they can because it’s available wherever they are,” says Kip Hewahewa, the company’s telecom administrator.
Deploying these technologies is largely effortless, because 3G access to corporate networks involves no special configuration. If you already have VPN clients and other remote-access authentication technologies in place for users who come in through the Internet, your network is ready for 3G users. “You use the same security for wired, 802.11b, cellular, and WiMax Internet connections,” says Ed Partenope, vice president of operations at enterprise communications consultancy Innovativ.
Pleased with the service’s performance and network stability, Cairns is now considering deploying 3G cards for PC users within American Republic’s corporate headquarters because the building’s heavy use of steel and concrete will make installing a Wi-Fi network difficult. A key issue will be the cost of monthly 3G data-service subscriptions for each user versus the setup and maintenance costs of an internal Wi-Fi network, Cairns says. He has yet to calculate the actual full cost of each option.
Waiting for WiMax
Many industry observers are hoping that WiMax, a developing wireless broadband technology, will emerge as a third choice. Based on a technique called OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), it’s more bandwidth-efficient than 3G technology or Wi-Fi. (Two competing, proprietary technologies -- UMTS-TDD and Qualcomm's Flarion Flash OFDM -- also use OFDM.)
But whereas 3G is now a viable option for many enterprises, WiMax is not. Although it’s often portrayed as a “super-Wi-Fi” technology that creates citywide hot zones, most users won’t access WiMax via cards in their notebooks as they do with 802.11b. WiMax is really an infrastructure technology, like DSL or cable modem service.