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The rise of wireless travel tech

By Nick Easen for CNN

Travelers say airports, hotels and airplanes are where they most need wireless access.
Travelers say airports, hotels and airplanes are where they most need wireless access.

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(CNN) -- Executives on the road can get a little nervous if they cannot be contacted, even for a second or two.

Maybe the secretary is calling with a crucial message, or perhaps it's the boss, spouse or client.

For business travelers, whether in a plane or at the hotel bar, being able to keep in touch with people, the Internet and corporate files via mobile, wireless networks has become essential.

And as the boundaries begin to blur between the different technology kits -- PC, mobile, laptop, PDA --- so does the distinction between work and personal time.

"My home and office life are mixed together, I e-mail my kids about schoolwork when I am away on a business," Andrew Herbert of Microsoft research laboratories told CNN.

"The boundaries between the computer and e-mail, the mobile phone, texting and the smart personal objects are going, they are all becoming part of a personal computing ecosystem."

Another problem with "road tech," as it becomes smaller and more powerful, is that not all pieces of kit can easily talk to each other.

"The bane of your life is that you have the two devices versus one device debate," says Alastair Macleod of smartphone producer Handspring.

Eye on design

Instant access to electronic resources using these devices is also on the rise, according to a survey by chipmaker Intel.

Results showed that while only one in 10 business travelers used Wi-Fi, nearly 90 percent see themselves using wireless computing in the future.

A third of Asian road warriors said they planned to try it within the next three to six months.

And 71 percent of traveling executives believe wireless technology will give them a competitive advantage.

"The traveler wants to be able to communicate everywhere, and you never know what mode will be required," says Frank Nuovo, head designer of mobile phone maker Nokia.

"If you are in an airport or an airplane, you need to be able to have a choice between voice or text communication for reasons of confidentiality."

Many companies have set up virtual private networks, allowing employees to access secure corporate files and e-mail remotely.

In many cases, hotels, airport lounges and cafes that cater to the traveler are driving wireless connectivity.

Some are charging for the privilege, but many in the industry believe eventually it will be free. They believe executives will view wireless access as an essential travel tool, and all outlets will be expected to have it.

One aspect of the industry that could benefit from the rise of wireless technology is design.

"Even business people have style, and so it's not just about pure functionality. We also have to feel comfortable," says Nuovo.

"Now you mix personal and business life. It is not 9-to-5 on the road it is 24-7. It is about designing for 24-7 and for (merging) home and business needs."

-- CNN's Meara Erdozain contributed to this report

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