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The Decision Making Process of Integrating Wireless Technology Into Organizations - INTRODUCTION, WIRELESS TECHNOLOGY: GENERATIONS, First Generation, Second Generation, Two and One-Half Generation

access data technologies devices

Assion Lawson-Body
University of North Dakota, USA

Glenda Rotvold
University of North Dakota, USA

Justin Rotvold
Techwise Solutions, LLC, USA

INTRODUCTION

With the advancement of wireless technology and widespread use of mobile devices, many innovative mobile applications are emerging (Tarasewich & Warkentin, 2002; Varshney & Vetter, 2002; Zhang, 2003). Wireless technology refers to the hardware and software that allow transmission of information between devices without using physical connections (Zhang, 2003). Understanding the different technologies that are available, their limitations, and uses can benefit companies looking at this technology as a viable option to improve overall organizational effectiveness and efficiency.

A significant part of the growth in electronic business is likely to originate from the increasing numbers of mobile computing devices (Agrawal, Kaushal, & Ravi, 2003; Anderson & Schwager, 2004; Varshney & Vetter, 2000). Ciriello (as cited in Smith, Kulatilaka, & Venkatramen, 2002, p. 468) states that “Forecasts suggest that the number of worldwide mobile connections (voice and data) will grow from 727 million in 2001 to 1,765 million in 2005.” With the huge growth anticipated in the utilization of wireless technologies, businesses are going to be increasingly faced with decisions on what wireless technologies to implement.

The objective of this article is to examine and discuss wireless technologies followed by presentation and discussion of a decision model that was formed to be used in determining the appropriate wireless technology. Technologies appropriate for both mobile and wide area coverage are discussed followed by technologies such as WLANs, which are used in more local, confined areas with short to medium range communication needs.

This article is organized as follows. The first section contains the various generations of Wireless Technology; in the second, WLANs are examined. The following section describes a decision model. In the next section, technology concerns are discussed, and the final section presents the conclusion.

WIRELESS TECHNOLOGY: GENERATIONS

There has been an industry-wide understanding of different “generations” regarding mobile technology (Varshney & Jain, 2001). Currently, there are also several technologies within each classification of generations, but the technologies are not necessarily finite in these generations.

First Generation

First generation (1G) contains analog cellular systems and does not have the capability to provide data services. The only service is voice service that can be provided to mobile phones. Two technologies worth noting are advance mobile phone service (AMPS) and frequency division multiple access (FDMA). AMPS is a first generation analog cellular phone system standard that operates in the 800 Mhz band. AMPS uses FDMA (an access/multiplexing technology) which separates the spectrum into 30 kHz channels, each of which can carry a voice conversation or, with digital service, carry digital data. FDMA allows for multiple users to “access a group of radio frequency bands” and helps eliminate “interference of message traffic” (Dunne, 2002).

Second Generation

Second generation (2G) is a digital wireless telephone technology that uses circuit-switched services. This means that a person using a second generation-enabled device must dial in to gain access to data communications. “Circuit-switched connections can be slow and unreliable compared with packet-switched networks, but for now circuit-switched networks are the primary method of Internet and network access for wireless users in the United States” (Dunne, 2002). In this generation one will find Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) which is a network standard, in addition to time division multiple access (TDMA) and code division multiple access (CDMA), which are multiplexing technologies. The 2G technology that is most widely used is GSM (a standard with the highest use in Europe) with a data rate of 9.6 kilobits per second (Tarasewich, Nickerson & Warkentin, 2002). TDMA works with GSM while CDMA does not, but CDMA is more widely used in the United States (Dunne, 2002).

TDMA allows many users to use the same radio frequency by breaking the data into fragments, which are each assigned a time slot (Dunne, 2002). Since each user of the channel takes turns transmitting and receiving, only one person is actually using the channel at any given moment and only uses it for short bursts. CDMA on the other hand, uses a special type of digital modulation called Spread Spectrum, which spreads the user’s voice stream bits across a very wide channel and separates subscriber calls from one another by code instead of time (Agrawal et al., 2003). CDMA is used in the U.S. by carriers such as Sprint and Verizon (Dunne, 2002).

Two and One-Half Generation

There is a half generation that follows 2G. 2.5G exhibits likenesses of both 2G and 3G technologies. 2G wireless uses circuit switched connections while 3G uses high-speed packet switched transmission. Circuit-switching requires a dedicated, point to point physical circuit between two hosts where the bandwidth is reserved and the path is maintained for the entire session. Packet switching, however, divides digitized messages into packets, which contain enough address information to route them to their network destination. The circuit is maintained only as long as it takes to send the packet resulting in cost savings.

High-speed circuit-switched data (HSCSD), enhanced data GSM environment (EDGE), and general packet radio service (GPRS) exist in this generation. HSCSD is circuit switched, but can provide faster data rates of up to 38.4 Kbps, which sets it apart from 2G. EDGE separates itself from 2G by being a version of GSM that is faster and is designed to be able to handle data rates up to 384 Kbps (Tarasewich et al., 2002). GPRS uses packet switching. GPRS, a service designed for digital cellular networks, utilizes a packet radio principle and can be used for carrying end users’ packet data protocol such as IP information to and from GPRS terminals and/or external packet data networks. GPRS is different by being a packet data service. A packet data service provides an “alwayson” feature so users of the technology do not have to dial in to gain Internet access (Tarasewich et al., 2002). Although this technology is packet based, it still is designed to work with GSM (Dunne, 2002).

Third Generation

This generation is what will occur next. Although 3G has recently been deployed in a few locations, it is now in the process of being deployed in additional regions. This process of installation and migration to 3G will take time to completely implement on a widespread basis across all areas of the globe. There will be high-speed connections and increasing reliability in this generation that will allow for broadband for text, voice, and even video and multimedia. It utilizes packet-based transmissions as well giving the ability to be “always-on.” 3G is capable of network convergence, a newer term used to describe “the integration of several media applications (data, voice, video, and images) onto a common packet-based platform provided by the Internet Protocol (IP)” (Byun & Chatterjee, 2002, p. 421). Whether or not the protocol used for packet-based transfer (on a handheld or smart phone) is the Internet Protocol, depends on the devices.

A derivative of CDMA, a wideband CDMA is expected to be developed that will require more bandwidth than CDMA because it will utilize multiple wireless signals, but in turn, using multiple wireless signals will provide greater bandwidth (Dunne, 2002). For example, Ericsson and Japan Telecom successfully completed the world’s first field trial of voice-over-IP using wideband CDMA. A technology hopeful in 3G is universal mobile telecommunications system. This is said to be the planned global standard that will provide data rates of up to and exceeding 2 Mbps (Tarasewich et al., 2002).

WIRELESS LOCAL AREA NETWORKS (WLAN)

We will now shift our focus from long-range mobile communications to technologies appropriate for short to medium range coverage areas. In fact, WLAN represents a category of wireless networks that are typically administered by organizations (Agrawal et al., 2003) and many of the issues with wireless telecommunications technologies are similar to those found with wireless LANs (Tarasewich et al., 2002).

Wireless Physical Transport

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has developed a set of wireless standards that are commonly used for local wireless communications for PCs and laptops called 802.11. Currently, 802.11b and 802.11a are two basic standards that are accepted on a wider scale today. These standards are transmitted by using electromagnetic waves. Wireless signals as a whole can either be radio frequency (RF) or infrared frequency (IR), both being part of the electro-magnetic spectrum (Boncella, 2002). Infrared (IR) broadcasting is used for close range communication and is specified in IEEE 802.11. The IR 802.11 implementation is based on diffuse IR which reflects signals off surfaces such as a ceiling and can only be used indoors. This type of transport is seldom used.

The most common physical transport is RF. The 802.11 standard uses this transport. Of the RF spectrum, the 802.11 standard uses the Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) RF band. The ISM band is designated through the following breakdown:

  • The I-Band (from 902 MHz to 928MHz)
  • The S-Band (from 2.4GHz to 2.48GHz)
  • The M-Band (from 5.725GHz to 5.85GHz)

802.11b is the most accepted standard in wireless LANs (WLANs). This specification operates in the 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) S-band and is also known as wireless fidelity (WiFi). The speeds at which 802.11b can have data transfer rates is a maximum of 11 megabits per second (Boncella, 2002).

The 802.11a standard, commonly called WiFi5, is also used and operates with minor differences from the 802.11b standard. It operates in the M-band at 5.72GHz. The amount of data transfer has been greatly increased in this standard. The max link rate is 54 Mbps (Boncella, 2002).

There are other variations of 802.11 that may be used on a wider basis very soon. These are 802.11g and 802.11i. 802.11g operates in the same 2.4GHz S-band as 802.11b. Because they operate in the same band, 802.11g is compatible with 802.11b. The difference is that 802.11g is capable of a max link rate of 54 Mbps. The 802.11i standard is supposed to improve on the security of the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption protocol (Boncella, 2002).

The future of the 802.11 standard will bring other specifications—802.11c “helps improve interoperability between devices,” 802.11d “improves roaming,” 802.11e “is touted for its quality of service,” 802.11f “regulates inter-access-point handoffs,” and 802.11h “improves the 5GHz spectrum” (Worthen, 2003).

Another option for close range communication between devices is Bluetooth technology or through infrared port usage. Bluetooth is a short-range wireless standard that allows various devices to communicate with one another in close proximity, up to 10 meters (Tarasewich et al., 2002). The Infrared Data Association (IrDA) developed a personal area network standard based on infrared links, in 1994, which brought technology that is extremely useful in transferring applications and data from handheld devices such as PDAs (Agrawal et al., 2003) and between computers and other peripheral devices. It requires line of sight and covers a shorter distance than Bluetooth.

WLAN Architecture

A WLAN architecture is built from stations and an access point (AP). The basic structure of a WLAN is the Basic Service Set (BSS). A BSS may either be an independent BSS or an infrastructure BSS. (Boncella, 2002, p. 271)

An independent BSS does not use access points. Instead, the stations communicate with each other directly. They do have to be within range for this to occur. These types of networks are called ad hoc WLANs. They are generally created for short periods of time for such examples as meetings where a network needs to be established (Boncella, 2002). Another option for close range communication between devices wirelessly is Bluetooth technology or through infrared port usage.

An infrastructure BSS uses access points to establish a network. Each station must be associated with an AP because all the communications that transpire between stations run through the APs. Some restricted access is established because of the need to be associated with an AP (Boncella, 2002).

An Extended Service Set (ESS) can be created by these BSSs. A backbone network is needed to connect the BSSs. The purpose of creating an ESS is so that a user will have what is called “transition mobility.” “If a station has transition mobility, a user is able to roam from BSS to BSS and continue to be associated with a BSS and also have access to the backbone network with no loss of connectivity” (Boncella, 2002, p. 272).

THE DECISION PROCESS

Usage of the Decision Model

After analyzing all of the different technologies in the wireless arena, the first decision that has the most impact on the wireless solution selected is the coverage needed by the wireless technology. There are three basic coverage areas that separate the wireless solution. The first is very short range coverage—30 feet or less. If the coverage needed is this small, the immediate solution is to use either an infrared port or use Bluetooth technology.

The second coverage area is larger than 30 feet, but is still somewhat concentrated. The solution for coverage that is needed just within one building or multiple buildings is a wireless LAN (WLAN). Because there are different solutions in the 802.11 standards, further analysis and breakdowns are needed. The second breakdown under this coverage area is a selection of what is more important between cost and amount of bandwidth. Because of the strong relationship between increased bandwidth and increased cost, these events are determined to be mutually exclusive. If keeping the cost down is more important then the solution is the 802.11b standard. If bandwidth is more important (due to a need for high data transfers), yet another breakdown occurs. The selection then depends on whether compatibility with other technologies is more important or if interference due to over saturation of the S-band is more important. These are deemed mutually exclusive because only two other 802.11 standards remain: 802.11g and 802.11a. The main difference is the band that is used. 802.11g uses the same S-band as 802.11b so there is compatibility for users of 802.11g with 802.11b APs, but at the same time, other devices such as cordless phones use the same band so interference can occur if the S-band is saturated or will become an issue in the future. If a more “clean” channel is desired with less interference the 802.11a standard is the appropriate solution. These two standards 802.11a and 802.11g both provide the same data rates.

The third and last coverage area is for distances that span farther than one building. If only voice is needed the solution is easy—a 1G technology would be the most cost efficient. Although this technology may become displaced by 2G or 3G technology, it is still an option in more remote areas which may have limited or no digital network service coverage. If voice and data services are needed, there are still two options, 2G and 3G. The main difference, again, is whether bandwidth or cost is more important. The difference in this breakdown, however, is that 3G provides an added level of security with device location. 3G also has higher bandwidth capabilities than 2G, so if bandwidth and an added level of security are more important than cost, a 3G technology should be chosen. If cost is more important, then 2G is the sufficient solution.

Since wireless networks lack the bandwidth of their wired counterparts, applications that run well on a wired network may encounter new problems when ported to a mobile environment (Tarasewich et al., 2002).

Although 3G has higher bandwidth capabilities and may provide an added level of security with device location, the cost of deploying the necessary technologies and security to 3G is greater than 2G, which may impact whether or not to implement new technology. Therefore, some companies are instead purchasing data optimization software that can significantly increase data transmission speeds by using existing wireless connections (Tarasewich et al., 2002).

Limitations of Model

The limitation to using this decision model is that specific coverage areas for the different wireless generations’ technologies were not taken into consideration. The reason that this coverage is a limitation is because of the many different carriers or providers of the technologies that exist and those providers having different coverage. Another limitation is the viewed context of using the model. The model focuses only on a “domestic” context as opposed to a global context. Demand for wireless applications differs around the world (Jarvenpaa et al., 2003; Tarasewich et al., 2002). In wireless technology, there are different standards used in the US as compared to other countries such as Europe and Asia.

TECHNOLOGY CONCERNS AND SECURITY ISSUES

Technology Concerns

There are several concerns for managers when investing in wireless technologies. One of the first concerns is that there is no single, universally accepted standard. This point raises questions or concerns over compatibility and interoperability between systems. Since standards may vary from country to country, it may become difficult for devices to interface with networks in different locations (Tarasewich et al., 2002). Thus, organizations may be hesitant to adopt a particular technology because they are afraid of high costs associated with potential obsolescence or incompatibility of technologies which they may decide to use.

Limitations of the technology are also an issue. Because many business applications take up considerable space and may access very large database files, the limitation of bandwidth could also be a concern. Even smaller files over a 2G device would take a long time to transfer. There are concerns regarding people and the change in culture that may need to take place. “Companies, employees, and consumers must be willing to change their behaviors to accommodate mobile capabilities.” They may also have to “adapt their processes, policies, expectations and incentives accordingly” (Smith et al., 2002, p. 473).

Coverage area is also an issue. For example, a WLAN with numerous access points may need to be setup so that the mobile user can have access to the network regardless of user location and access point. Service providers of 1G, 2G, and / or 3G technologies may have areas that may not get service as well. The question whether seamless integration exists as far as working from a desktop or PC and then taking information to a mobile device such as a Personal Digital Assistant may also be a concern (Tarasewich et al., 2002).

Security is always an issue with wireless technology. Authentication is especially important in WLANs because of the wireless coverage boundary problems. No physical boundaries exist in a WLAN. Thus access to the systems from outside users is possible. Another concern is whether many devices are using the same frequency range. If this is the case, the devices may interfere with one another. Some of the interference is intentional because of “frequency hopping” which is done for security purposes (Tarasewich et al., 2002).

Because of capabilities to access wireless networks, data integrity is more of an issue than in wired networks. If data is seen at all and the information is confidential, there could be valuable information leaked that can be detrimental to a firm or organization (Smith et al., 2002). Viruses and physical hardware are sources of security issues as well. Mobile devices such as PDAs can be stolen from authorized users. Viruses can be sent wirelessly with the stolen device and then destroyed after the virus has been sent, thus making it difficult to identify the individual at hand (Tarasewich et al., 2002). With packet-switched services for mobile devices and with WLANs, the user of the devices has an “always-on” feature. The users are more susceptible to hacking when they are always on the wireless network (Smith et al., 2002).

WLAN Security Exploits

According to Robert Boncella, a number of security exploits exist related to wireless LANs. The first security exploit, an insertion attack, is when someone “inserts” themselves into a BSS that they are not suppose to have access to, usually to gain access to the Internet at no cost to them. A person can also “eavesdrop” by joining a BSS or setting up their own AP that may be able to establish itself as an AP on an infrastructure BSS. When the person has access, they can either run packet analysis tools or just analyze the traffic. Similarly, a person may try to clone an AP with the intent to take control of the BSS. If an AP is broadcasting because it is setup to act like a hub instead of a switch, monitoring can take place as well (Boncella, 2002).

A denial of service attack is one in which the usage of the wireless LAN is brought to a halt because of too much activity using the band frequencies. This can also happen by cloning a MAC or IP address. The effect is the same: access is brought to a halt. This is what is meant by a client-to-client attack. There are also programs that will attempt access to a device or program that requires a password and can be directed at an AP until access is granted—also known as a brute force attack against AP passwords. In WLANs, the protocol for encryption is Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), which is susceptible to compromise. The last exploit is misconfiguration. When a firm or organization gets an AP it usually ships with default settings (including default password, broadcasting, etc.) which if not changed can compromise the network since the knowledge of default settings is generally available to the public (Boncella, 2002).

Minimizing Security Issues

There are actions that can help reduce the security risks. Encryption technologies exist that can help ensure that data is not easily read. The problem with this is that developers of encryption protocols need to make them more efficient so bandwidth overhead is not a drain on the data rates that the individual will experience. Encryption is not always foolproof either.

Another method of reducing security issues uses information regarding device location to authenticate and allow access. Then, if the device is stolen, locating it might be possible, but also, if the device travels outside the accepted coverage area, access can be stopped. Usage of biometrics in devices and for authentication is another option. Biometrics that can be used would include thumbprint and/or retinal scanning ID devices (Tarasewich et al., 2002).

When firms or organizations decide or use WLAN technologies, there are three basic methods that can be used to secure the access to an AP: Service Set Identifier (SSID), Media Access Control (MAC) address filtering, and Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). One has to be careful with using SSID as a method of security, however, because it is minimal in nature and an AP can be setup to broadcast the SSID, which would then have no effect on enhancing security (Boncella, 2002).

The second method that can be used to help secure an AP is MAC address filtering. When used, only the stations with the appropriate MAC addresses can access the WLAN. The problem is that the MAC addresses have to be entered manually into the AP which can take significant time. Maintenance also can be a hassle for larger firms because of the time it takes to keep the list up to date (Boncella, 2002).

The last method for WLAN security is usage of Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). The 802.11 specifications use WEP as the designated encryption method. It encrypts the data that is transferred to an AP and the information that is received from an AP (Boncella, 2002).

WEP is not totally secure, however. Programs exist that use scripts to attack a WLAN and WEP keys can be discovered. There may be a new solution which may replace WEP, called the Advance Encryption Standard (AES). Further development of 802.11 standards may also help alleviate some of the security vulnerabilities (Boncella, 2002).

Even though WEP is not completely secure and it does take up bandwidth resources, it is still recommended that it is used along with MAC address filtering and SSID segmentation. In WLANs, it is also recommended that clients password protect local drives, folders, and files. APs should be changed from their default settings and should not broadcast these SSIDs. If a firm or organization wants end-to-end security, the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is possible. The technology has been established for quite some time and allows for users to use an “untrusted” network for secure communications. It is an increased cost and a VPN server and VPN client have to be used (Boncella, 2002).

CONCLUSION

While these different technology specifications are important in the decision making process because each of them are different and allow for different capabilities, it is also important to realize that decisions related to investing in technology such as modifications or restructuring to the business model can have an affect on investment. Also, investments in wireless technology can follow the investment options as well, thus potentially changing the path(s) using the decision model. Managers can use this decision model to plan their wireless technology implementation and applications.

The future of wireless technology may also bring more devices that can operate using the many different standards and it may be possible that a global standard is accepted such as the expected plans for the 3G technology UMTS.

Mobile and wireless technology has attracted significant attention among research and development communities. Many exciting research issues are being addressed and some are yet to be addressed and we hope that this article inspires others to do future research by expanding or enhancing this decision model. Researchers should need this decision model to categorize wireless technologies so that hypotheses and theories can be tested meaningfully.

Finally, this model should help information systems professionals to better identify meaningful wireless decision support systems (Power, 2004).

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