Wi-Fi hotspots provide some lift, but beware of hastily planned infrastructures.
I recently had myself convinced that I could handle a fairly sizable remodeling job myself. At the behest of my family, I begrudgingly hired a professional contractor, who has since proceeded to impress me thoroughly with his skill and quality of work. I now admit that I could not have done what he has accomplished.
So it goes with certain IT projects in your enterprise, Wi-Fi notwithstanding. Subscribers to this magazine are representative of the entire North American retail spectrum, from small shop owners to many top executives at Wal-Mart. Many of them are do-it-yourselfer wannabes like me, who inevitably skip a step or cut a corner when they take their projects in-house. While you might not be surprised at how many retailers have adopted Wi-Fi, you would be shocked at the number of them using the technology inappropriately. Lately, I've been talking with executives from network and wireless solutions providers like Industry Retail Group (IRG) and AirTight Networks, and they've corroborated my findings. We've swapped stories of retailers using open-access hotspots to communicate sensitive data, offering free Wi-Fi to consumers on corporate network infrastructures, and using default parameters of their off-the-shelf, plug and play access points for corporate data sharing.
Wi-Fi Drives Traffic, Builds Patrons
Mike Luzio is president at IRG, and he says his Wi-Fi business is booming. In fact, he's sold more Wi-Fi services in the past six months than any other of his company's offerings. "Especially in quick-serve and service-oriented retail, those big players who haven't adopted it yet will adopt it soon," says Luzio. IRG can tune in to its customers' network usage and produce valuable metrics. For instance, one of the 400-plus store chains it works with attracts 10 to 15 Wi-Fi users per location per day, and those users have been steadily climbing in recent months. With the service available for a hundred to several hundred dollars per location per month, some retailers offer the service as a value-add, and others offer a pay-per-use model to offset costs.
As my home improvement project would have placed a burden on my time and stretched the limits of my expertise, some IT departments have resisted offering the service out of fear of management complexity. No IT professional managing a corporate network wants to answer service calls from a coffee-gripping Wi-Fi squatter in the lobby. But many Wi-Fi service providers offer service as part of their monthly fee.
On The Web: Janam and VDC execs talk wireless retail apps at ismretail.com/jp/7215.
Take Care With Your Wi-Fi Infrastructure
While Luzio says IRG will either add Wi-Fi to a retailer's existing broadband infrastructure or provision a separate circuit, some security experts caution strongly against the former. Kaustubh Phanse, Ph.D., is wireless architect for AirTight Networks. He says security issues cannot be ignored. "Wi-Fi, or wireless in general, is inherently vulnerable," says Phanse. "Over-the-air transmissions spill beyond the premises, and unless secured, even a single wireless device — let alone a wireless LAN — can serve as a back door for malicious intruders, compromising the security of the entire network and exposing private data." He points to the infamous TJX breach as a prime example.
My house probably wouldn't have caved in had I attempted to remodel a few rooms myself. But had I not called in a professional, it wouldn't look as great — or work as well — as it does now.