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Getting wired on wireless work

By Nick Easen for CNN

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Security is cited as one of the main reasons for a lack of uptake.

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(CNN) -- Growing numbers of airport lounges, fast-food restaurants, hotel rooms and rented offices are introducing wireless hotspots.

Wi-fi or wireless fidelity capability is also being installed in more laptops and newly-constructed office space.

Business travelers are using it and it is becoming cheaper, faster and more efficient over short distances.

But when will the majority of us be working wirelessly?

Optimists say it is just round the corner. More executives already have wireless enabled notebooks, 3G phones and PDAs, keeping them linked up to office networks in the conference room and the coffee shop.

And, although pessimists claim Wi-fi has as much potential as the paperless office, it is likely to be quickly eclipsed by more powerful technology. Many corporations are already locked into wired offices.

"It is still sort of in its infancy," John Antone of Intel Corporation told CNN.

"We are seeing more (wireless enabled) coffee shops and hamburger joints that have the capability, than we are seeing seats filled up with people plucking away at laptops."

Antone likens the rise of wireless work applications to that of the light bulb or the telephone -- in that it took a while to put in the infrastructure and even more time for the numbers to make economic sense.

Critical mass

"You have to get to some sort of critical mass before you see a fundamental benefit. Then people en-masse can start moving beyond that, then it becomes a real viral thing," explains Antone.

Aside from a slump in technology budgets, security is cited as one of the main reasons for a lack of uptake, although companies such as A.S. Watson, the world's third largest health and beauty retailer, believes the risk is manageable.

"We have security IDs, keys, digital certificates. If we keep on top of it and keep working with it we will stay ahead of the game," says Chief Technology Officer, Andy Buckle.

The company has 250 wireless staff and believes the move to wireless work has been worth it, even though it is hard to measure the return on investment.

"Forget about the technology. You need to examine your business. And ask 'will having my workforce flexible and being able to move out of the office benefit me?'" says Buckle.

Wireless work has also significantly impacted the insurance industry.

In Hong Kong, Canadian insurers, Manulife have had wireless insurance agents for five years. Several hundred work with Wi-fi enabled laptops in the office and go out for presentations to potential clients in coffee shops.

Their key to success -- make sure lots of data can be accessed remotely, not just e-mails.

"If you have wireless connections but you do not have application software for the agent to use, this is useless, no matter how much you spend, " says Michael Chan of Manulife.

A recent study by wireless chipmaker Intel also found that its staff saved about two-and-a-half hours a week by working wireless. Over a year, that adds up to 120 hours.

This extra time came from working with a wireless laptop in those small windows of time that were once unproductive; time between client or corporate meetings, when waiting for someone who is late, the airport, or in a hotel lobby.


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