Some predict a totally wireless world, but that will probably never happen. There are so many other good media out there-including fiber optics, unshielded twisted pair, coaxial and other bundled wiring solutions-chances are there will always be room for both hardwired and wireless.

The current focus, and how it may shake out in the future, is a layered approach to integration and wireless. For now, wireless will continue to emerge as an important add-on and one piece of what it takes to achieve a truly integrated environment. The emphasis will continue to be on the application and finding the right combination of hardware, software and information transport systems to get the job done.

The current infrastructure is one reason why a complete changeover to wireless may not be immediate. Corporate end-users are simply not ready to totally abandon any notion of deploying new hardwired solutions. They know they may be better off laying fiber optics in a tricky location close to the facility that needs robust security. Or that they can use coaxial cable or structured wiring confidently in new construction simply because of its durability, reliability, signal strength and ability to upgrade. When they want wireless, it will be for new computing, information technology and security scenarios as they arise.

Our hardwired ways

There are other reasons why it's not time to completely abandon our hardwired ways. Wireless may not have the range and flexibility some end-users desire. A case in point is when a user can access the Internet or network in only key selected points or strong transmission spots and not in every part of the entire facility. In addition, there is the subject of security-wireless opens the network and the business to hackers and other very real and extremely detrimental consequences tied to malicious viruses and cases of deliberate sabotage.

For the die-hard low-voltage installers, wireless means intrusion detection sensors and radio frequency for communication and control of a facility, and these devices continue to step up with superior signal strength and reliability.

Wireless sensors have been in the security industry for decades, and over the last 10 years or so, the focus has been on refining the technology so the installer can use them with confidence and without concern over false sensing and erratic detection. Some false alarm prevention features on the market include pet alleys and processing safeguards that require a series of events to occur before the device trips.

Dual-technology devices that combine passive infrared and microwave or ultrasonic sensing are also the norm. Wireless detectors for harsh environments are on the market and available for professional users who need reliability and false alarm immunity for harsh applications, according to Avi Shachrai, chief executive officer and president, of Visonic in Tel Aviv, Israel. The sensor manufacturer has a number of different units that have taken the trepidation out of installing motion sensors. For example, sensors may include two separate dual-element passive infrared sensor channels integrated by the detector's microprocessor to prevent false alarms and boost reliability.

Digital video recorders can also be controlled wirelessly. Nuvico, Englewood, N.J., has partnered with Perseus Wireless, San Diego, to permit digital video recorder access via cellular telephones and other handheld devices.

“This frees security professionals from their desks,” noted John Kwak, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Nuvico. “They can now have alarm events e-mailed directly to their cellular telephones and respond within seconds.”

Wireless comes in all shapes and sizes for traditional security. There are magnetic clips or money clips, panic devices and much more. But even in security, wireless continues to move beyond intrusion detection to personal alert, asset management, and positioning and location systems for people and property. ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, Fla., recently introduced a mobile security program for its users, and Cisco Systems in Northern Europe is deploying a wireless system that uses the mobile Internet as a new tool for emergency service providers. Installed in the trunk of an automobile, the system can roam across WLANs, mobile phones and other specific networks to provide seamless communication between the emergency headquarters and the moving vehicle, regardless of physical location.

Wireless and innovative applications

The attraction to wireless is that it removes traditional boundaries and extends the applicability of use. This technology excels in nonsecurity applications and into the realm of RF tracking. Example after example continues to emerge of how wireless can be used in innovative applications, including the following:

oDevices implanted as “chips” in people, pets and other items: Applied Digital Solutions, a Florida-based company, announced the release of the VeriChip for medical applications-the world's first implantable radio frequency identification microchip for human use. About the size of a grain of rice, it contains an identification number that corresponds to patient health information.

oUsed as identification chips to track shipments and monitor stock needs: Retail giant Wal-Mart introduced a smart tag that can identify each individual item stocked on its shelves. Other companies, especially in Europe and the United Kingdom, continue to use asset management and tracking.

oIn animal husbandry and veterinarian medicine, for farm management and sanitary control of livestock, radio frequency centers on electronic identification of livestock and quality recordkeeping.

oAs remote-control devices, cellular telephones/cameras are now used in a variety of security, personal and other easy radio frequency information technology transportation endeavors.

oIn a host of specialty applications, such as the recently launched BioTerrorism Wide Area Network in North Dakota, one of the nations's most sophisticated high-speed, broadband networks for emergency response: It uses a fiber optic system installed and maintained by Dakota Carrier Network, owned by 15 independent local telephone companies. In the event of a terrorist threat, biological warfare or natural disasters, North Dakota stands ready to broadcast emergency information to strategic locations within the state, mostly hospitals.

In day-to-day business, many companies have begun to deploy wireless networks. According to Kneko Burney, chief market strategist, Customer & Service Provider Markets, In-Stat/MDR, Scottsdale, Ariz., more than 38 percent of businesses use wireless networking, and that number jumps to close to 60 percent in larger, enterprise-type operations.

Tags and tracking

RFID tags are poised to become the most far-reaching wireless technology since the cell phone, according to In-Stat. Worldwide revenues from RFID tags will jump from $300 million in 2004 to $2.8 billion in 2009. During this period, the technology will appear in many industries with significant impact on the efficiency of business processes.

“By far the biggest RFID segment in coming years will be cartons/supply chain,” said In-Stat Analyst, Allen Nogee. “This segment alone is forecasted to account for the largest number of tags/labels from 2005 through 2009.” Wal-Mart, which has mandated that top suppliers use the technology, will drive this market segment.

IBM has witnessed the increased popularity of wireless in the corporate environment for information technology applications. According to Clain Anderson, director of Wireless and Security Solutions, IBM Personal Computing Division, Raleigh, N.C., many companies are “dipping their toes in the water and adding wireless to their wired networks.”

Wireless boosts productivity

Anderson says there are a number of ways in which end-users are employing wireless and most are strongly tied to the need for increased productivity and more efficient work environments. Users can attend meetings and tap into the network from their laptops where wireless uplinks are available. Instant messaging has become another efficient way to work in the corporate environment. And, while the current hubbub is the vulnerability or security of the network, Anderson reaffirmed safeguards are in place and they are continually updated and hardened.

“There are concerns about security and the vulnerability of wireless as it applies to the network. However, in most cases, companies have taken steps to protect access to the network and communications off the 'open lane' [wireless] is protected as well. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an essential step when using wireless from home or inside company space,” he said. Anderson added there are devices that detect unauthorized or rogue access points set up on the network. Computers and laptops may also include biometric fingerprint readers on the machines (laptops and computers) combined with wireless.

“It's easier and more productive for someone to access the system with this type of identification verification procedure,” he said.

However, for those users connecting to the network at home or away from the office, Anderson warned of increased vulnerability to the network. Even smaller businesses using wireless in and around the office have to be especially careful about hackers.

RF continues to foster a plethora of emerging applications, ranging from general security to tagging assets and even humans. Wireless has been extended into remote capabilities, whereas a cellular phone can be used to view/control items such as a digital video recorder and cameras. From end to end of the spectrum, wireless performs, and no where is that more evident than in integrated applications-security, information technology, building management, surveillance and general control. Hardwired equipment, fiber optics, cabling and wireless all work together to provide a total systems solution-even in the residential market, where cable and phone companies have begun packaging services that include wireless networks.

With the proper safeguards in place, wireless is moving ahead, most strongly as an effective tool for boosting employee productivity. As part of a layered, integrated solution, wireless makes perfect business sense. EC