TECHNOLOGY Wireless Work – The booster shot for productivity

All of sudden we’re working in wireless wonderland. It seems that almost overnight an unforeseen force has pervaded our environment. Wireless hot spots are popping up in major metropolitan areas enabling business people to operate in real-time. Mobile workers, armed with laptops and handheld devices, are becoming common sight in cafes, airports, and major public venues, clicking onto company networks, email or the web.
Other signs of this quiet evolution are the tiny antenna cards attached to laptop computers, cellular towers surreptitiously invading urban areas, and fewer ugly cables linking office peripherals.
Excitement is running high at the headquarters of the major service providers as the new 3G networks are rolled out and coverage areas increased – along with sales.
At the comparatively modest premises of wireless high-speed ISP Woosh in Auckland’s Newmarket, CEO Bob Smith was keen to display the latest technology, including tiny new PCMCIA card modem for laptops delivering wireless freedom in the home, in the field, or in the office.
Woosh’s technology is all about ‘plug and play’ wireless enabling – it claims it takes less than 24 hours to be up and running on its cellular network.
The Woosh network is growing like topsy – Christchurch coverage was boosted recently by three new sites, and Wellington airport is now on-stream. Woosh has coverage for more than 10,000 homes and businesses in Southland, more than 37,000 in the capital, and some 70 percent of the Auckland region. It has big plans for expansion and there’s talk of voice service down the track.
“And it’s just going to get better and better – we’re only at the start of the journey,” says Smith.

Freedom to roam
Smith believes companies can no longer ignore the benefits that wireless data technology provides. “It’s all about providing freedom and flexibility for your people.”
He says employers are selling themselves short if they restrict their workers to nine-to-five business model. Wireless technology allows you to take your office with you. Much of the administration and research work traditionally performed in bricks-and-mortar office can now be done any time and anywhere.
Wireless office LANs deliver huge flexibility for IT planners – for example, adding new workstation is breeze and real-time access to the central server is no longer restricted to wherever there happens to be plug in the wall. Start-up companies or companies shifting office will no longer have the financial burden of installing expensive cabling. Staff will appreciate the convenience, as will visitors. Soon the standard question from visiting executives will be “are you running wireless here?”
Real-time access to information is the key driver for working wirelessly, according to Kevin Kenrick, general manager mobile for Telecom. “It enables workers to remove the lag effect and cut out the dead time in their day.”
Optimising your company’s communications expenditure is another reason to adopt wireless capability – it adds new dimension that almost everybody in the organisation benefits from.
The new technology equates to less time playing phone-tag – people are more ‘reachable’, they can operate far more autonomously, and information is delivered into the palm of your hand. Offering wireless remote access to company networks and the internet also contributes to much healthier work/life balance for employees – employers should view it as means to attract skilled staff.
Kenrick points to Telecom’s own policy of enabling staff to work off-site. “It’s simply not pragmatic to lump everyone together in the one office when they can deliver equal if not better performance working remotely.”
From customer’s point of view, wireless capability provides greater efficiency; from worker’s point of view it makes it easier to keep in touch with colleagues.
In homes too, wireless functionality is all about freedom.
“More than 50 percent of homes in New Zealand are accessing the web via interconnected PCs,” says Kenrick. “But in most homes computers are confined to the corners of rooms. wireless system allows desktop and laptop PCs to operate from the couch, from the bed, or out on the deck.” He points out that running network cables under house is no longer possible with today’s concrete slab floors, so linking computers by cable becomes very unsightly.
Kenrick likens wireless migration to the step from dial-up to broadband – once you’ve experienced the benefits of the new technology, you’ll be glad you adopted it.

Dispelling the myths
Geosmart’s Luigi Cappel, long-time proponent of the mobile office, agrees there are issues surrounding the speed, bandwidth and design of wireless systems, and that it’s important to first consider what you want to do.
“For company network, wireless may not be the best solution. Determine your needs and process first and then look for the service that will fulfil those requirements.”
Cappel believes most wireless services are generally reliable, although being RF-based there may sometimes be interference issues.
“Be aware that from time to time bandwidth demand may get close to the network’s capacity, and there will be need to add more transceivers.”
He says the industry will experience “supply versus demand” growing pains as faster bandwidth is offset by bigger applications. The real test will come when video comes to cellphones, or when there is public event involving the media and large numbers of PXT phones – then, even the T3G networks may feel the strain.
Despite this Cappel believes we are way past the early adoption phase, wireless technologies have matured, and now the focus is on security and stability.
Which brings us to another misconception – that wireless networks are less secure than fixed ones.
Phil Patel, general manager business markets for Vodafone, believes that this is merely perception, and in fact, wireless networks have more security controls in place. He points to the success of the Blackberry handheld PDA, which has triple-layer security level and is popular with government departments. (New Zealand has been the most successful Blackberry market for Vodafone outside the United Kingdom.) As far as Patel is concerned, reliability and security have never been issues.
Bob Smith says digital cellular networks are “as secure as any out there” and that CDMA was originally developed for the military for secure transmissions.
“Essentially there’s no difference between cable and wireless networks in terms of security,” says Smith. “They are all encrypted and encoded.”
He points out that even if Woosh’s technicians wanted to tap into their wireless network it would require specialist equipment that simply can’t be bought off-the-shelf.
As for signal performance, Smith says there is always “bedding-in time” for any new network, but his company’s modular approach means capacity issues can be quickly addressed.
When it comes to the implementation of wireless capability in an organisation, this is where one of the biggest misunderstandings takes place, according to Telecom’s Kenrick.
“The misconception is that the technology is the solution or the end game, and providers may talk about mobile or WiFi or IP-network solutions as the answer. That’s not true – the future is about convergence rather than one single solution.”
Kenrick says it’s important to get return on the communications investment already made, rather than throw out what you have and start all over again. It’s about making the migration cost-effective.
“The answer is not 3G or 4G or 5G, it’s about how you make the migration. Start with the users – where are they located? What communication device is available to them? What do they need to be connected to and how do you make that connection? How important is speed, security, and the ‘always-on’ factor?
According to Kenrick there can be an issue with security on public networks, so private network may be the best option fo

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