Traveling professionals and efficiency-minded CEOs take heart: Wireless electronic devices are getting faster, smaller, and cheaper – and the infrastructure to support them is becoming more widely available.
"I jokingly say, 'As long as I have my American Express card, an Internet connection, and my Fed-Ex account I can work anywhere in the world,'" says Andy Abramson, CEO of Comunicano Inc., a Del Mar, California, advertising, marketing and public relations firm.
To accommodate growing demand by executives such as Mr. Abramson for an increasingly flexible and mobile work place that can compete in today's fast-paced global market, manufacturers are cranking out a variety of innovations. Laptops that connect to the Internet via rapidly spreading WiFi technology are getting lighter and less expensive. Makers of handheld computers have begun to include features such as cell phones, cameras, and global positioning systems.
And to support it all, wireless "hot spots" are pushing beyond transportation hubs and convention centers into apartment complexes – and even entire municipalities. Hermiston County, Oregon, recently installed 75 towers to transmit signals over a 600-square-mile area, and Rio Rancho, New Mexico, unveiled a 103-square-mile network. Other cities – including Washington, D.C., and San Diego – are using EV-DO, a Verizon Wireless signal system based on third-generation cellular technology.
Wireless access is in such demand that technology research firm Gartner Inc. estimates the United States will have more than 21,000 wireless "hot spots" by the end of this year – up from about 1,000 just three years ago. That would make the United States the world leader in "hot spots," with three times as many as No. 2 Great Britain.
Garmin iQue 3200 Global Positioning System
This handheld device is integrated with a Palm personal digital assistant for business users. The iQue 3200 ($535.70) features a 200 MHz processor, a Palm OS 5.2.1 operating system, and 32 MB of memory.
PCNet Inc., a Trumbull, Connecticut, company that ranks No. 114 on the Hispanic Business 500®, is taking advantage of the technological advances. The company has issued BlackBerry handheld computers to 12 of its 60 employees, mostly sales personnel and upper management. Its sales force also uses laptops that can access the Internet remotely, and the company even has set up wireless access points at its sales offices in Connecticut and Florida.
"We provide wireless access points in those offices so that any of our people can walk into our other locations and get direct connections without having to look for cable and do any types of configuration changes," says Matt Soto, the company's director of information technology.
SanDisk Cruzer Titanium
This USB 2.0 high-speed flash drive ($199.99) lets users download and store files on a device small enough to fit on a keychain.
Tessada and Associates, an information technology and support-services firm in Springfield, Virginia, decided against making a similar investment. Marketing director Chuck Petrilla said that, although the company has some laptops with wireless connectivity, it could not justify spending an additional $8,000 on BlackBerries and other wireless technology.
Prices for electronic devices are generally dropping, particularly for devices that use older technologies such as digital photography, says Carl Lan, carrier marketing manager for palmOne, maker of the Treo line of multi-function handhelds. "As [the technology] gets better, the prices are going to go down," he says. But he adds that products requiring new software and greater versatility still come at a premium.
Meanwhile, cell phones, PDAs, and media players are starting to blend into one another to create devices that Mr. Abramson calls the "Swiss Army knives of the mobile professional."
Mirra Personal Server
Allows remote access to computer files, as well as file protection, restoration of lost files, and searches for earlier versions. The $399 device allows users to share files via the Internet and download remotely from any Web browser.
One recent example is the HP iPAQ h6315 Pocket PC. T-Mobile USA Inc. and Hewlett Packard have teamed up to deliver a 6-ounce device featuring voice calling, WiFi detection, Internet connectivity, instant-message chatting, an MP3 player, a digital camera, a keypad, and 64 megabytes of data storage. The device competes with the BlackBerry and the Palm Treo 600.
Peter Rojas, editor-in-chief of New York-based Web magazine Engadget.com also notes developments with the Sony TR3A laptop. The laptop uses Intel Centrino wireless technology (a combination of three technologies that allows for wireless connectivity) either from a built-in chip, a WiFi card, or USB adapter.
Kensington WiFi detector
This palm-size device lights up when a location is "hot," or WiFi-connected ($29.99). Without need for software or a computer, it detects signals up to 200 feet away.
Another factor making work easier for the mobile professional is the diminution of storage media that makes it easier for people to take their computer files with them. Mr. Abramson recommends the 512-megabyte capacity SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive, which, at three inches long, fits on a keychain and holds files that can be accessed from a computer anywhere.
"The ability to get up and go work someplace else is here," Mr. Abramson says. "We're not bounded by four walls and a solo connection any longer."
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