Wireless cuts both ways for federal managers

Wireless cuts both ways for federal managers


The GCN Reader Survey is intended to provide data on trends and product preferences. This survey on wireless technologies is based on a telephone survey of 100 federal readers who identified themselves as IT or systems managers.

Wireless LAN technology is a double-edged sword for many users, a GCN telephone survey of federal IT managers found.

On the one hand, wireless LANs, which use the IEEE 802.11b standard, give users greater mobility and accessibility. On the other, they're more vulnerable to intrusions than wired LANs.

Wireless LAN technology has made just a small dent in federal enterprises, the survey sample showed. Only 14 percent of feds we polled said their offices have wireless LAN segments.

But more than a third are giving WLAN a hard look. About 22 percent said their offices have plans to install wireless segments and another 15 percent reported that deployment is a possibility.

Those who have tried it like it.

'It's convenient and accessible to workers,' said a systems manager at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

'We wanted to keep up with the latest technology,' said an information systems manager at a Defense Department bureau in Los Angeles.

One NASA IT executive in Washington said his office had deployed 802.11b as part of a research and development effort. His organization also had installed Bluetooth'or short-range radio'wireless technology.

Only 8 percent of feds we surveyed said their agencies expected to install Bluetooth at some point, while 77 percent had no such plans.

Bluetooth fans

But 25 percent of feds polled thought it would be useful for their agencies to have Bluetooth available to users.
Security weaknesses easily topped the list of concerns about wireless systems.

'The whole world can read it,' said a systems manager at an Air Force post in Mesa, Ariz., where there are no wireless LAN plans at the moment.

Feds we talked with noted other barriers to deploying wireless technologies, including high cost, lack of funding and management support, and additional hardware load.

The biggest hurdle for an Army post in Mission Viejo, Calif., is getting funding and organizational support, said an information management officer. As a result, there are no plans for 802.11b, the officer said, although the organization is looking at the possibility of deploying Bluetooth for its users.

At the Forest Service in Bradford, Pa., cost is the biggest impediment to wireless technologies, a computer specialist said. Still, his bureau is taking a closer look at 802.11b for possible implementation down the road. Bluetooth also is getting a look-see, the specialist said.

For a Navy IT manager in Philadelphia, cost is also a concern, but his organization nonetheless wants to introduce 802.11b in the next two years.

Wireless technologies significantly increase the overall expense of running IT systems, said a Defense Department computer specialist in St. Louis. That's why his office has no immediate plans for a wireless LAN.

Having to develop a new IT infrastructure was the biggest WLAN hurdle for a Naval Supply Systems Command systems analyst in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

'It requires new equipment to accomplish the task,' he said.

Providing extra technical support for wireless-systems users was the biggest potential nuisance for a computer specialist at a Bureau of Land Management office in Redding, Calif., where there are no WLAN plans for now.

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