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For many organizations, advanced mobile information systems can improve internal processes by boosting efficiency and enhancing customer service. Consider the organizational impact of cell phones. Now think bigger. A lot bigger.

Sooner or later, network managers will be called on to implement the infrastructure required to support these applications, sometimes without a clear view of future needs. Many organizations and service providers are already building out wireless LAN hot spots at hotels, airports and malls, and some are implementing designs that incorporate advanced security and seamless roaming, with few dead spots. These initiatives require considerable time and money, so it's easy to view them as strategic infrastructure investments.

Unfortunately, most of today's WLAN and wireless cellular data service offerings are best thought of as interim technologies. It won't be long until today's emerging 2.5G wireless cellular offerings are deemed legacy systems. I doubt 11-Mbps WLANs will be the most appealing solution five years from now, even if they are the most widely deployed.

Given current limitations, it's tempting to sit on the sidelines and wait for the "right time" to invest in wireless infrastructure. IT managers who dive in early sometimes wind up with daunting legacy integration and migration problems once standards mature. But the long lead times associated with building a wireless infrastructure often make it difficult to respond quickly to mobility requirements.

Today's WLAN industry finds itself at numerous crossroads. The evolution to higher-speed systems is inevitable, but the migration path is not entirely clear. On mobile devices, we can anticipate dual- and trimode radios that deliver graded service, transparently connecting you to the best available wireless infrastructure. Many users won't even know whether they're using GPRS, WiFi or 802.11a.

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