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Industry Insight
September 2003

Jim Machi

Coming To You From A Crisp, Refreshing Mountain� Cubicle


You�ve no doubt seen some incarnation of this commercial: An impossibly good-looking young executive type, dressed in designer hiking clothes, sits on top of a remote mountain, happily checking e-mail. Is it possible? I don�t know. I just tried writing this article -- on a rare sunny northeastern summer day -- at the mundane location of my town pool. But I quickly decided to head back to the office because I found I couldn�t concentrate over the squeals and shouts of the splashing kids. So would I be able to sit on a rock on a mountaintop and pretend I was in the great cubicle think-tank? I don�t know.

But that�s not the point, is it? The point is that by using some kind of technology (in the case of the mountaintop, likely 3G wireless, since I doubt a there�s a hotspot up there -- though maybe I should check back in 10 years after the inevitable coffeehouse appears), the boundaries of the office no longer really define the office. Ease of connectivity makes office boundaries blur. And wireless connectivity makes office boundaries blur even more.

For instance, I recently wrote about how bringing broadband into my home over cable gave me a true home office, since IP and voice over IP have essentially �masked� this environment from those with whom I am communicating. Even so, the office is confined to a specific location in my home.

Wireless connectivity means my home office won�t be confined to a specific location. (In this article, I will not debate the merits of 3G or 802.11 hotspots as the method for wireless connectivity. For more on that, refer to my December 2002 article called Look-Over There, In the Airport...) Anyone who has recently been through a major airport has undoubtedly seen the availability of wireless connectivity through major wireless network operators. I�ve used them to VPN into my work network to check e-mail and get to internal Web sites. It�s saved me time and it�s made me more productive, since I�m more in touch.

To digress for a moment, I�ve also read that hotspot signals can go beyond 100 meters. Since I�ve used these wireless hotspots multiple times in many different locations, I�ve done some unscientific analysis of how far they can go. You may have seen me walking around with my laptop open, toting my luggage behind me as I attempt to find the signals. (If any Intel safety personnel happen to read this article, I�m sure I will get a visit -- since we�ve been instructed that this practice is highly dangerous.) At any rate, the farthest from the hotspot that I�ve been able to get a signal is around 30 meters, which is apparently not unusual since I understand there is some kind of tuning that can occur. That is, if large bandwidth is expected due to a highly concentrated user base (like at an airport or coffee shop -- but hopefully not that mountaintop), then the signal range needs to be smaller.

But what about voice? I�ve found in my travels, especially in Europe, that it was downright hard to get my voice mail. (My cell phone only works in the U.S., so if you will write to my boss protesting this horrible injustice, it might help.) Not all the airport phones took my calling card, and even those that did didn�t necessarily take DTMF. Even so, I persevered and usually found a phone that worked, although it took time. And my e-mail worked just great.

Before you unified messaging pundits jump in -- yes, I know, if I had unified messaging and was able to get my e-mail, I could have just listened to my voice mail as attachments to my e-mail. But that�s another story for another time.

The point is, my wireless connectivity worked great, I was able to VPN into my work network, yet I couldn�t easily get my voice mail. But if I�d been able to get voice over the 802.11 network, I could have just called into my voice mail like I do when I use my IP phone from home over the cable VPN connection. It turns out that there are already companies offering VoIP technology for 802.11 including Telesym, Vocera, Spectralink, and Symbol. So next time, I might just be able to make this phone call using the wireless network.

In my last article, where I discussed 3G and 802.11 wireless networks, I wrote, �not all (802.11) deployments are for the enterprise.� When I wrote that, I was specifically talking about taking 802.11 from the office environment (where wireless LANs instead of wired LANs are being used) to the concept of these hotspots (which back in December were fairly new). But I�m beginning to take a different perspective on 802.11. Even as it reaches into these hotspots, it really is for the enterprise (at least for a business user like me). It doesn�t matter where I sit. My office environment just changes, that�s all. I just hope I don�t find myself on the top of a mountain actually working someday.

Jim Machi is director, Product Management for the Network Processing Division of the Intel Communications Group. Intel, the world�s largest chipmaker, is also a leading manufacturer of computer, networking, and communications products. For more information, visit www.intel.com.

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