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Mobile workers will stick with modems

November 11, 1998
Web posted at: 1:00 PM EST

by James Niccolai

SAN JOSE, California (IDG) -- Connection technologies for mobile workers won't improve dramatically in the next few years, but companies who deploy notebook PCs wisely can still benefit from productivity gains, two Gartner Group analysts said last week.

Plain old dial-up using an analog modem will remain the primary means of accessing the Internet and corporate intranets for the next five years, said John Girard, vice president and research director for the Gartner Group's remote access division, during a half-day seminar on the topic hosted here by his company.

"Much as we love to hate them, during the next five years the only thing you'll have that is guaranteed to work universally is analog modems," Girard said.

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Cable modem access is taking strides, particularly in the United States, but its growth will be stifled by limited availability and the fact that many services are consumer-oriented and don't offer the types of guaranteed service levels that businesses need, he said.

Wireless and Digital Subscriber Line services are both mired in protocol standards issues. Wireless services for the most part are reliable today only for sending short bursts of data over relatively short distances and won't be a useful way to maintain a continuous connection until 2001, Girard said.

As for DSL: "Dostoevsky once noted that a dead man's fingernails will continue to grow. DSL is a little like that. It's dead everywhere except California," Girard said. Telecoms in other regions have been very slow to roll out DSL services, he said.

To make the most of the limited bandwidth available companies should keep their applications and Web pages simple. "Match the applications to the method of access," Girard said.

Software products that optimize applications for mobile use are a good idea, he said. They include delta file transfer products, also called differential file transfer, which allow mobile workers to replicate only the changes made to a document rather than the whole thing.

Notebooks cost more, give more

The total annual cost of ownership for a notebook is higher than that of a PC by Gartner Group estimates -- $9000 to $12,000 for a notebook versus $7800 for a desktop PC, said Kenneth Dulaney, vice president of Gartner Group's mobile computing and storage division.

But the benefits of notebooks can outweigh the additional costs. Besides productivity gains, notebooks can improve customer service by allowing workers to provide instant answers to questions in the field, and also make it easier for workers to switch from one office to another at a moment's notice.

Taking a purely financial approach, Gartner Group examined how many extra hours per week workers on various salaries would have to work to recoup the extra cost of deploying notebooks. Workers who make $100,000 a year need to work less than one extra hour per week, and workers on $40,000 would need to work an extra two to three hours a week to make up for the additional cost of a notebook, the study found.

The same study found that most workers spend an extra three to five hours a week working at home when they have notebooks, Dulaney said.

Companies shouldn't take cost savings or other benefits for granted. A good place to begin notebook deployment is with the company sales force -- and not only because the job lends itself well to mobile computing. Sales is an area where job performance is typically closely monitored, which will allow any productivity gains to be measured more clearly, Girard said.

Next comes the job of winning managers and executives over to remote computing. But companies should not simply give them an all-you-can-eat consumer Internet access account and expect them to be happy, Girard said. "If you're using remote access as a mainstream part of your business, then it's got to be business-class access, and you're going to pay for it."

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