Three wireless IT products to keep tabs on

Here are three very interesting wireless products/services that you should try out now, so that when the technologies hit Version 3.0 and become mainstreamed, you're ready to go.

As a consultant in new product and service launches, I get to see (and play with) a lot of stuff in early development. Sure, there are enhancements and add-ons to be created here and there, but you can usually tell right away when a company is on to something that will be important. Here are three very interesting wireless products/services that you should try out now, so that when the technologies hit Version 3.0 and become mainstreamed, you're ready to go. I'm not saying that the current incarnations are the ideal products, but that the overall concept embodied by them will play a role in your corporate IT strategy sometime soon -- so get a head start.

Cellular routers. A cellular router takes in a wireless WAN connection and makes it available to multiple clients on the LAN side. Often, the LAN connections are not just 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet-wired connections, but include an 802.11 connection, as well. Key applications include landline backup (important for keeping those credit card swipe machines operating during the holidays), telemetry (fleet management now can be more interactive and video-enabled) and other fixed wireline applications. Key vendors include broadband wireless companies, such as Kyocera, and start-ups, such as Junxion. Pricing starts around US$500 (plus PC card and monthly service expense) and goes up. I like Junxion's approach thus far, because it's not hard-wired for a particular carrier. Just plug in any broadband carrier's wireless data network PC card, and you've got an instant hot spot wherever you are. While wired consumers, like me, will want one of these in their car right away, firms will use them to extend their Wi-Fi infrastructure to more roaming platforms. Google reportedly uses cellular routers on its regional campus buses to maintain Wi-Fi-driven connectivity for employees between buildings. You'll want to plan for how broadband data services from the cellular providers mesh with your internal applications. It's also a lot easier and more cost-effective to start with a shared data service application such as a cellular router-driven data application. These initial products reflect second-generation experience in broadband data and are quite useful in many current applications. Try one, you'll like it.

Cellular service extenders. I can't get cell phone access in my home. And I get no sympathy from my cellular provider (Verizon Wireless... can you hear me now? No!). So imagine my pleasure in running into firms that are seeking to specialize in bringing signals into my home. Wireless Extenders and Digital Antenna sell units in which you mount an external omni or directional antenna on the outside of your home and wire it to a paired repeater somewhere centrally in the home. Voila, in-home cell coverage for about $300 to $600. For me, that's less than two months of cell service costs. My IT guy tried out our test units and wouldn't return them because he needed to boost his own signal strength in his home for off-hours support calls - at least that's the excuse he gave. As employees become more reliant on cell phones for business activities, they need to be in touch. These products need to be more user-friendly to install, and Wireless Extenders' product needs to support the full range of spectrums sold in the U.S. (this feature is coming in the fall), but these companies are on the right track.

Business location cellular service extenders. Same product idea, bigger coverage area and higher cost, but same value proposition. You've got all those cell phones inside your office area, but can't get a signal. So check out products such as SpotWave. Your cellular provider might have specific partners of a similar kind. These products will run about $2,500 to $4,000 or so for a standard-sized office area.

Wireless is becoming embedded in our lives across the board. "Being connected" is more than a philosophy; it's almost something that we tattoo on our arms. Products such as the ones above get you one step ahead of the next catchphrase, "Staying connected."

-- Briere is CEO of TeleChoice, a market strategy consultancy for the telecom industry. He can be reached at -- Network World (US)