How Do Wireless Cities Affect IT Pros?

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Citywide Wi-Fi is growing.

Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boston are among the large U.S. cities that have implemented free wireless across their municipalities, and Minneapolis’ partially built system was tested with sincerity in this summer’s bridge collapse.

Public safety figures into many cities’ plans for the service, and with the Interstate 35 bridge disaster, local and federal officials made quick connections through PDAs and laptops. Additionally, workers on the mobile command center floating on the Mississippi River were in touch with city, state and national agencies.

IBM has been active in supporting the public sector as it explores and deploys Wi-Fi options. The promise and expectation of a wireless network is that it offers more opportunities — for city residents, businesses and IT professionals, said Michael Dillon, director of digital communities.

“Integrators can leverage the networks for new applications and services for government, citizens, visitors and businesses within the network’s service area and perhaps beyond,” he said. “Developers can apply their skills and innovation to the emerging needs of the newly mobilized community and develop next-generation solutions to improve the way people live, work and play.”

IBM’s role as a systems integrator is critical to helping city governments see the Wi-Fi benefit to their own agencies. Typically, these groups need to extend their legacy applications to mobilize workers and services. Assessments of government IT infrastructures help in the construction of appropriate Wi-Fi networks for all.

“The technical issues associated with any wireless project are many,” Dillon said. “The deployment of the technologies is not something that can simply be mapped out and planned on the desktop — there is as much art as science involved in getting it right in the field.”

He also said this creates work for IT professionals.

“There’s ample opportunity for the IT professional as both implementer and consumer of these services,” Dillon said.

As an integration or implementation specialist, an IT careerist can advance intelligent plans, executing networks that deliver create operational efficiencies, save money and improve conditions for citizens, businesses and visitors.

“Deploying networks is an exciting part of this emerging market and capability within the communities, but the real opportunity is in the innovation that will come when bright and energetic IT professionals get enthused and creative about how to tackle problems,” Dillon said. “The IT professional has the opportunity to think about technologies that can leverage the wireless environment as never before possible, which will be the playground of this new era in computing, and we are hopeful that innovation and creativity will eclipse past endeavors to benefit us all.”

Harwell Thrasher, author of the book “Boiling the IT Frog” and founder of MakingITclear Inc., disagrees with Dillon — he sees limited IT development potential arising from Wi-Fi deployments.

“Wi-Fi technology is changing so rapidly that there’s a good chance your network will be obsolete within a few years,” he said.

If this occurs, it will dissolve any opportunity the deployment created, Thrasher said, and although a deployment is functional, it is nearly always insufficient.

“Wi-Fi isn’t like street lights, where you need the same sort of illumination everywhere,” he said. “You need more bandwidth where there’s more demand, and you don’t necessarily know in advance where your high demand is. So, you have to build the network on an assumption and then constantly upgrade areas of the network to meet new demand.”

If IT consultants and implementers fall behind, cities can experience Wi-Fi gridlock — traffic jams similar to those on roads and highways that aren’t adequate to serve the communities through which they run.

“Overcrowding of the Wi-Fi spectrum leads to Wi-Fi gridlock,” Thrasher said. “The transmission slows to the point where it’s almost unusable.”

Kelly Shermach is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who frequently writes about technology and data security. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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