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Welcome to the wireless office

By Nick Easen for CNN

A slump in corporate IT spend has put the wireless office beyond the reach of many.
A slump in corporate IT spend has put the wireless office beyond the reach of many.

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Do you think your office will become wireless in the next few years?

(CNN) -- Within the next few years, the working day may be a lot different, courtesy of wireless mobile networks.

Check your e-mail while sipping a cup of coffee in the staff canteen. A client calls on your mobile headset while you walk and talk. Then off to a meeting with your tablet PC linked to the Web and corporate server.

And if hot-desking and mobility doesn't appeal to you, then consider slick workspaces with linked fax machines, printers and phones -- with no bundles of cable or boxed hardware under the desk.

"Why did we need wireless voice, i.e. mobile phones? Today they are everywhere. Now people are asking the same question about wireless data," Amer El-Nahi of Lucent Technologies told CNN.

"It's a whole new way of working. But as soon as people get addicted to it in Starbucks, they will want it everywhere including the office space," he adds.

There is no doubt that Wi-Fi or wireless fidelity is here to stay, a technology which allows information to be sent from one device to another without wires.

It is already in coffee shops, airport lounges, as well as hotels. And many in the IT industry believe it will soon be part of our office life.

Driving this growth is the expanding suite of wireless office services launched for the latest PDAs, laptops and Blackberry devices.

"We are definitely starting to see change. Everyone is talking about it, but it will take time to adjust to the plug and play office environment," Audrey Lam of Sun Microsystems told CNN.

"The education sector is already using wireless office networks, as well as technology and finance companies," she adds.

And the slump in corporate IT spend has turned the wireless office upgrade in to a nice-to-have rather than a strategic necessity for most corporate decision-makers.

"In one or two years this will change. And if you build an office from scratch, a wireless office is now cheaper -- especially if you have to link-up 200 or more PCs," Jonson Yue of Hewlett Packard Services told CNN.

"Costs on wiring and maintenance will be saved, as well as laying cable. You just employ air stations or wireless hubs," he adds.

With the slump in the global economy companies are also cutting costs by trimming back office space.

And some are looking to wireless networks to maintain functionality, yet save on all the wires and hardware that clog up office space.

Office hotspots

In the last six to 12 months, cutting-edge and adventurous companies have begun to build office "hotspots" -- areas where you can tune in your mobile device at work and log on to the Web and the server. Yet its popularity to-date varies considerably by industry sector.

"It depends on how much interaction and mobility you need in the office, in finance and the media industry it can be very important," adds Yue.

Initiallly their were security concerns regarding Wi-Fi technology in the office space.

Yet vendors have now been able to secure the mobile networks using sophisticated encryption devices and software protection.

Of course, new technologies evolve considerably before becoming mainstream.

The growing pains of these cutting edge wonders will ensure that today's wireless solutions may not be the one's you see in your office tomorrow.

"The wireless office may improve a company's competitive edge, but only until everyone has it, then we will have to look to the next application," says El-Nahi.

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