Even if federal agencies gave all their employees mobile devices tomorrow, many government buildings lack the wireless infrastructure needed to support the technology, government and industry officials said on Tuesday.
"These buildings can withstand a bomb blast but you can't get a wireless signal," Research in Motion's Craig Ano told an audience at the FOSE government technology conference.
Many government agencies are turning to mobile devices like smart phones and tablet computers to streamline work and increase efficiency.
While security issues and logistical concerns continue to dog those efforts, a bigger obstacle to more mobile technology is aging government buildings that not only lack wireless service but can block signals from the outside, said Phil Klokis of the General Services Administration.
Retrofitting old, concrete-and-steel buildings with enough wireless devices to provide adequate coverage is not cheap, but some agencies are getting inventive.
One idea being developed at the GSA is leasing space on the rooftops of its roughly 1,500 buildings to wireless carriers, Klokis said. When carriers place their transmitters on the rooftops, it improves wireless coverage within the building.
Increased coverage brings potential problems of its own, said Donald Kachman of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Administrators have to ensure that concentrated wireless devices don't interfere with other systems, such as medical equipment, he said.
"The question is how do you do coverage well, and how do you do coverage smart," Kachman said.