Warehouses Are Going Mobile

Weigh all your options before implementing a wireless solution.


To be fully effective, the system should be set up so that "every time a pallet leaves, there is a wireless system that knows what is going out and where it is going, and updates that information across the entire network," says Eric Hermelee, vice president of marketing at Wavelink Corp., Kirkland, WA.

Security Tops The List

Now that you've decided what you want to do and which equipment will help you do that, you'll need to make sure that adequate security protocols are in place to protect the data that goes out over your network. Despite security precautions such as surveillance cameras, barbed wire fences and intrusion detection systems, many companies are still dangerously exposed to security lapses throughout their wireless network.

A professional hacker can sit in the parking lot, equipped with a laptop and a $60 wireless PC card, and penetrate corporate wireless servers to gain access to credit card information, stock numbers, price lists, sales and order quantities and more.

Security concerns with wireless technology in a warehouse are heightened because of the prevalence of multi-vendor interoperability, support for multiple operating systems, centralized management and functionality based on automation, transparency and redundancy.

"Such lapses are always a possibility," admits Symbol's Melville. "You need to make sure that everything you transmit is adequately encrypted."

Another step to take to protect your wireless network is the installation of a password and user authentication system, says Wavelink's Hermelee.

And, there is a need to secure not only the scanners and computers, but also wireless printers, something that is often overlooked. "Mobile wireless printers have many of the same security vulnerabilities and support issues as other mobile components within the wireless enterprise, but they have traditionally been outside the scope of wireless security management," says Stephen Drake, program manager for the Mobile Software Service at IDC, Framingham, MA. "Enterprises can help ensure the security, reliability and consistency of their entire mobile deployment solution by integrating all mobile devices under one management system."

A maintenance systems that monitors the health of the entire system and the communications connections is also critical, says Wavelink's Hermelee, who notes that in the fast-paced, low-margin grocery industry, no one can afford to have their wireless network go down for any length of time.

The system also allows managers to update the software for each device remotely, and tell how the device is being used in a warehouse. "It can tell how many scans a person has done and what he's been doing," says Frank Riso, senior director of retail marketing and operations at Symbol. "It can also turn a device off remotely if needed."

The information contained in the system monitor can be transmitted over the Internet to link all the devices in multiple warehouses. "This is especially important when you're talking about one company with five warehouses or more around the country," Riso says. "Everything can be done centrally from one location."

This has been a life-saver for U.K. retailer Tesco. With more than 5,000 wireless access points and different settings at 673 stores and a number of distribution centers in Great Britain, preserving the right network settings without a central management system would be a full-time job. "For us, the key benefits are the ability to deal with high volume, create a stable environment and then easily detect when an access point has gone wrong," says Glenn Couch, a Tesco infrastructure project manager.

The Mobile Manager from Wavelink also allows Tesco to update systems with ease. "We've found that upgrades are much easier with Wavelink," Couch says. "At one stage we had to configure 900 access points manually and it took us three weeks. We now find it's more than 10 times quicker. It gives big labor savings when you're planning a major change, and also when you're dealing with support questions."

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