The Government Needs Some Wireless Lessons


The Government Needs Some Wireless Lessons

By Robert Deller
Contributing Writer

A friend bragged recently that a federal agency with which he does business is moving from the District of Columbia to a building in Virginia that is wired to handle the communications requirements of several agency staffs that will occupy the building.

Wire the entire building? To allege that the demand for wireless technologies in government is high is to overstate market potential. Three very important issues limit the demand:

Agency planners are not fully aware of the cost and performance benefits of wireless.

Vendors and integrators are not confident that their investments in developing wireless solutions can be leveraged.

Available revenue for modernizing government programs is limited.

An examination of 115 contracts that provide telecommunications support to federal programs shows that more than half offer a potential for improved service at lower cost through wireless solutions.

Distribution of Wireless Applications Across Cabinet Agencies

Agency Budget Applications
GSA $25,400 2
Military $2,100 7
Defense $1,700 5
Justice $760 2
Transportation $450 2
HHS $420 4
USDA $223 2
Energy $58 3
Treasury $54 3
Labor $50 1
VA $3 1
Total $30,000 32

These programs can be categorized by functional requirement or by technology application. Functional requirements range from upgrading telecommunications infrastructure to interactive ground-air communication services. Applicable technologies include satellites, ground mobile, wireless PBXs and integration of wire/wireless. Integration of wired systems or upgrades applies to circuits already in place or which require physical cabling.

Of the contracts reviewed, fewer than 10 percent stated explicit requirements for wireless.

Virtually every cabinet-level department has at least one application for wireless that can be implemented within the next five years.

Some agencies have already identified systems that could be wireless-based beyond the next five years. (See accompanying chart showing the distribution of wireless applications across departments and the estimated budget to support those programs).

Some of the obvious applications for wireless are in tactical military and law enforcement programs. Telecommunications infrastructure in all agencies includes local area networks and telephones. Telephones are used in mobile and fixed operating environments. Such environments can be found in agriculture, health care, law enforcement, interior and transportation. Connectivity between fixed, wired environments and wireless, portable units enhances communication.

The lower operating costs, as well as maintenance and support costs of wireless devices, can benefit all environments that depend on communication between individuals and fixed location information systems.

The problem in attaining benefits from wireless technologies lies not in finding candidate programs. It is in the need to market wireless applications. The "chicken and the egg" conundrum applies.

Contractors are not inclined to offer wireless solutions for agency consideration when agencies have not explicitly requested wireless. Few agencies acknowledge the applicability. Wireless has not been demonstrated successfully in many operating environments of the private sector.

As a result, very little experience has been documented for agency consideration. Moreover, many wireless technologies that have wide applicability and potential for cost savings are simply not known to agency network planners. Integrators do not include them in proposals because of the likelihood that they would not be accepted by many agency decision makers.

Without the experience of operating in wireless environments, wireless LANs for example, agencies will not understand the value of the technology.

Vendors of wireless products must therefore conduct an education campaign. Advertising and marketing should include both technology characteristics and operational experiences emphasizing cost reduction and improved performance in environments similar to those of federal agencies.

Robert Deller is an industry analyst with Global Systems & Strategies Inc., Vienna, Va. He can be reached at

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