Going Wireless - What the WI-FI Revolution Means For Your Business
Step into a Starbucks in downtown Dallas or pop into a pub in London’s Financial District and along with your beverage of choice, you can get high-speed wireless Internet access. Hailed by some as the most revolutionary development since the advent of the Internet browser, wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi for short, means you won’t miss an important email on the road or a crucial videoconference with a client. Technology companies notoriously are quick to dub new products "revolutionary", but many believe that Wi-Fi may do for computing what cell phones did for voice communications. There is big ready-made market eager for better, faster communication choices. An estimated 65 percent of all U.S. workers spend some, or all, of their time away from a central business facility, and a whopping 40 million people work out of offices in their homes. If you are in this ever-growing number, take heart in the knowledge that your days of juggling cell phones and pagers and battling slow Internet connections may be coming to an end. It may not happen tomorrow or next week, but the strenuous efforts of established phone companies to get in on the act, suggest that Wi-Fi is here to stay.
What is Wi-Fi?
And so, what is it? Wireless fidelity or Wi-Fi is a radio signal with a limited range that gives people with specially equipped computers high-speed wireless connections to the Internet. The good news is that you will never have to be out-of-touch with the office - providing you can find an access point, a Wi-Fi hot spot. Improved connectivity means we can work anywhere anytime, but the bad news is it also erodes the demarcation between work and leisure - think more interrupted vacations.
In the U.S., you will find most Wi-Fi hot spots in coffee shops, hotels and other heavily trafficked areas where technologically sophisticated business travelers are to be found. Some hot spots charge a fee and others - including some New York-based McDonald’s restaurants that offer free connectivity to purchasers of certain meals - offer free Wi-Fi Internet access to customers. Frequent fliers should note that Boeing Company and several international airlines plan to equip Boeing 737s with Wi-Fi Internet access. In Europe, forecasters predict some 32,500 hot spots will be in place by 2007. Planned Wi-Fi networks include a nationwide British effort linking 3,000 pubs, and in Paris, U.S. technology leaders like Cisco Systems are installing wireless technology throughout the subway system.
Is it here to stay?
With relatively cheap wireless hardware being installed everywhere - from coffee shop chains to cyber-cafes at the foot of Mt. Everest - widespread Internet access is only a matter of time. But will business people use it? Right now, most users report only sporadic use. However, many industry experts believe that the Wi-Fi business is viable. They predict that prices will fall and hot spots proliferate worldwide as a growing number of regular paying subscribers sign up. It is worth noting too that world-wide, the big players including Cisco Systems, Intel, Nortel and Ericsson are all jostling for a piece of the action, in the belief that our love affair with mobile voice communications will extend to data, too.
Industry observers also note that though it will not replace the wired network, unregulated wireless bands offer Internet service providers (ISPs) a chance to break free from stranglehold the big telecom players have maintained on the "final stretch" of communications. In this way, increased competition for entrenched telecom companies from smaller Wi-Fi companies should have some broad impact - with cost benefits for business owners - on the pricing of wireless and other radio communications extending beyond Wi-Fi services.
Looking into the near future, technology trend spotters predict a surge in master-planned communities - residential, retail and commercial - where the infrastructure for wired and wireless voice, data and video are laid down in advance. In these state-of-the-art developments, the residents or tenants can add the communications options they want to be rolled into their mortgage or lease payments.