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Web Without Wires

December 2003
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 

To introduce its Centrino mobile technology products, Intel Corporation's mobile messengers march through Times Square in New York. It was the company's biggest product launch since the Pentium processor 10 years ago.

Mobile technologies come home.

Diverse businesses from technology developers to hotels are capitalizing on the public’s compulsion to stay in touch. Until recently, technology that allows laptop owners to access networks wirelessly was viewed as a nonessential add-on. But today, companies and consumers recognize the benefits of mobile computing, and technology providers are meeting the new demand with equipment that makes notebook computers ready for surfing right out of the box.

As ubiquitous wireless communications move from nicety to necessity, they are transforming the traditional work environment and gradually making their way into homes. Market analysts already are seeing the maturation of business models. This trend opens up new markets that could bring about changes comparable to those realized by the introduction of the videocassette recorder and the Internet.

The Intel Corporation, Santa Clara, California, is helping to eliminate the need for a data-carrying umbilical cord to connect to the Web. Last March, it introduced its Centrino mobile technology that integrates wireless capability into a new generation of personal computers. Centrino components are built into notebook computers offered by several hardware manufacturers.

The original marketing effort was aimed at businesses; however, a campaign this fall expanded that work to reach out to individual consumers. Karen Regis, director, marketing programs and promotions, Intel Mobile Platforms Group, Santa Clara, California, says that the company focused on corporate users first because it believed that they would be the early adopters of the technology.

Sales metrics in the industry show success, with double-digit growth in 2002 and 2003 for the mobile personal computer market. Although it has been a challenging time for computer sales, the mobile market has seen a 20 percent growth in the past two years. “People are really embracing mobility for a number of reasons, and I think that some of the new user models that the industry is enabling are part of that,” Regis says.

A group that Intel calls “road warriors”—business professionals who travel often, such as sales and marketing personnel—was the original focus of Intel’s marketing efforts. To ensure that Centrino technology would succeed in this space, the company determined where business people travel most, then verified that its technology would operate with the mobile services in those areas. The goal was to provide a better out-of-the-box experience, and the result was verification of more than 20,000 locations worldwide where consumers can successfully connect with Centrino.

Regis explains that this verification is about more than standards. Although the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has established the 802.11 industry standard, building to standards does not guarantee interoperability. To achieve customer satisfaction, Intel has teamed with a number of companies, such as T-Mobile, to make certain that service providers’ technologies work with Centrino, she says.

The company has designed its technology so systems managers can incrementally upgrade companies’ systems yet retain consistency in manageability on personal computer systems. In addition, Intel’s technology is not only about portability but also about being mobile, which means that power requirements were addressed so customers can operate wirelessly for longer periods of time.

Most companies understand how and why mobile computing enables their employees to be more productive, Regis says. The benefits are somewhat obvious for mobile forces such as sales people, but firms are starting to realize the advantages of mobility within the work place as well. For example, employees can take their laptops to meetings and enter notes directly into their computers. If they need data from their computers during a meeting, they can access it immediately, which supports real-time decision making. Taken one step further, wireless connections to the Internet allow meeting attendees to grab information from the Web.

Gartner Incorporated, Stamford, Connecticut, has researched this trend and has found that moving from wired desktop to wired notebook computers adds three hours of productivity per week per employee. In addition, the study shows that mobile computing can be a real differentiator for companies. If a firm does not have 35 percent of its workers on a mobile computing platform, it will be at a significant disadvantage. If a wireless Internet connection capability is added to the laptop, an increase of up to eight hours of incremental productivity is realized. “So now you’re talking about 11 hours of productivity gain compared to a wired desktop. Although there is a higher total cost of ownership, the return is realized very quickly,” Regis notes.

The advantages are even more pronounced with companies that have offices in several time zones. Employees can connect with offices around the world from their homes at any hour. As the economy becomes more global, this capability will be vital, and expanded voice over Internet protocol will be another benefit of mobile computing technologies, she adds.

Wireless connectivity to the Internet requires two conditions. First, the computer must be equipped for wireless connection. Second, the user must be in a location that is covered by a wireless access point, or hot spot, which can be almost anywhere including retail outlets, airports and hotels. Intel has seen the number of hot spots grow, and Regis says that this phenomenon is a testament to the public’s desire to be connected in more places. As a result, the company began examining the commercial consumer marketplace as the next logical step for promoting the product.

Although it does not surprise her that many Silicon Valley retail outlets, for example, offer wireless access, she relates that a scan of residential areas shows that the number of hot spots is increasing, so more people are installing wireless access points in their homes. Regis, for instance, uses her wireless laptop connection in her kitchen to access Web sites that feature recipes. In addition, schools are beginning to use the Internet to share information about events and homework, so parents can access the Web while away from home to check schedules and assignments online. “It’s not about technology for technology’s sake, but it is really enabling people to do things differently,” she says.

Content providers are developing innovative products to address this new demand. The movie industry is providing an alternative to visiting video rental stores by offering downloadable movies. In some cases, users can even begin watching before the download is complete. “The types of abilities that the content providers are bringing to bear make for some really interesting usages,” Regis shares.

Mobile technology is moving quickly on many fronts; however, some of the same basics of connected computing continue to be a high priority, including security. Regis emphasizes that security cannot be taken for granted in either the wired or wireless environment. Intel has a number of projects in this area and consults with security solution providers to validate that its platform is compatible with different security solutions. “If it’s done right, wireless connectivity can be secure. It’s an ongoing challenge, but it will get better over time. It’s very good today, but as an industry we can make it easier to deploy and reduce the cost,” she says.

As it moves Centrino into the commercial consumer market, Intel is expanding its merchandizing of the product as well as taking a look at pricing that will attract buyers. From a wireless standpoint, the company is working to make it easier for users to connect. At the same time, it is taking steps to make consumers aware that the number of hot spots is increasing so they will be able to connect wirelessly in more locations.

Michael King, principal analyst in Gartner’s San Diego office, has been watching the development of the wireless market for several years. He says he is seeing a maturation of business models. Consumers are deploying wireless capabilities within their homes, and companies are beginning to recognize the work performance value of mobile computing. Retail establishments such as coffee shops and hotels now offer wireless connectivity to enhance customers’ experience in their stores. These businesses are not necessarily looking for more revenue by charging for wireless access but rather hope to promote greater sales of their traditional products, such as coffee, by attracting more customers. King uses the analogy of air conditioning. Years ago, hotels drew customers by advertising that their rooms were air-conditioned. In the near future, people will expect hotels to offer wireless access, he says.

The wireless market is being influenced by a number of factors. Laptop sales surpassed desktop sales for the first time last year, which King attributes to the desire for portability. King proposes that most consumers do not want to or do not know how to install wiring in their homes to create a network, and the convenience and low cost of installation make wireless attractive. Finally, people may not need wireless, but once they try it, they become addicted to it, he says.

Future applications for wireless capabilities also will affect the marketplace. King says that the next step for wireless in homes will be networking devices other than computers. “Who’s to say that I can’t connect a cable box? Who’s to say that I can’t connect a telephone? Now, I don’t need to wire that stuff. The next step is that it becomes an entertainment device as I connect to my television or my cable box. So I can download movies and watch them on my TV or listen to music on my stereo that I keep on my PC. The interesting thing is that now that record companies are starting to embrace the capability to download music, you’ll see more and more of that—legally,” he notes.

“So now we’ve talked about wireless from an entertainment standpoint. Let’s talk about connecting appliances. Let’s talk about having a truly wired home that doesn’t have wires. That’s really what we’re looking for,” he says. Getting to this point, King states, will require that the number of users grows so that more companies enter the wireless industry and that consumers recognize value in wireless capabilities. “People will install this stuff, but the next step will have to be to actually have a value to owning a wirelessly connected phone or cable box or refrigerator. And if there isn’t a value, then no one’s going to invest in it,” he contends.

Additional information on Intel Corporation’s Centrino technology is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.intel.com/products/mobiletechnology.

 

One Less Wire to Pack

Business travelers have come to expect a certain level of convenience when staying at hotels. Today, these expectations are changing from coffee makers and cable television to Internet outlets and wireless access. Hotel chains view the latter perk as a way to increase revenue and attract new customers. Savvy information technology entrepreneurs are satisfying travelers’ craving for connection while on the road by developing, marketing and installing the capability with profitable business models.

Michael Wasik, chief executive officer and president, SuiteSpeed LLC, Louisville, Colorado, happened upon this emerging business opportunity almost by accident. After sending out an advertising mailer, he received only one reply. It was a request from an engineer for a high-speed Internet connection capability in Bolder, Colorado, and it changed his life. After unsuccessful research in the area of line-of-sight connections, Wasik and his engineering team began exploring the wireless access world and turned it into a new business.

Today, Wasik’s company provides wired and wireless access solutions for the hospitality industry. The firm’s products include the SuiteNet wireless or wired local area network, a visitor-based network gateway called SuiteLink, a patent-pending guest packet called SuitePac, and SuiteBridge Ethernet adapters. Each cable drop offers wireless Internet access to 25 to 30 rooms. Holiday Inn, Best Western, Radisson and Embassy Suites are among the company’s clients.

SuiteSpeed is by no means the only technology firm to recognize the business potential of installing wireless access connections in hotels. However, Wasik relates that the primary reason his company succeeded where others failed is its business model. Initially, many wireless companies contracted with hotels on a revenue-share basis. These firms would bear the equipment and installation costs upfront then receive payment based on how much the hotel collected from guests who paid for wireless access. Wasik chose to adopt a different model. SuiteSpeed charges for installation and collects a monthly service fee regardless of usage. Individual hotels decide whether they will charge for access or offer it free to guests, and the company’s products allow hotels to manage the system either way.

Representatives from the hospitality industry agree that offering wireless access is a requirement today. However, some are using it as a revenue generator, while others believe free access is a draw for more business.

Beverly McCabe is the chief information officer for Bartell Hotels, which is installing SuiteSpeed products in its seven properties and charges a fee for wireless access. She says business travelers demand the freedom to move from their rooms to meeting areas to the pool without interruption in Internet service. “There is such a high demand for our wireless Internet solution … that we are now generating up to $3,000 a month in incremental revenue. Wireless Internet is just good business,” she says.

Ed Decker, general manager, Embassy Suites Hotel, Denver Gateway Airport, says his company offers free access because it wanted to distinguish itself from other properties. He believes that offering complimentary wireless Internet service gives his hotel a distinct advantage over its competitors. “So much so that we are bringing guests back to the property because they like the connecting experience. More importantly, our sales team has a feature that can attract new corporate customers and grow our new client business,” he states.

The wireless access equipment business also is growing. Wasik relates that six firms attended last year’s conference for technology providers, but this year 30 companies were at the conference. He believes that wireless access at hotel sites is just the beginning of a truly wireless world. Today, guests can check in at curbside. In the future, wireless connectivity will be ubiquitous with access points from locations such as truck stops, and reliable service will allow travelers to roam while staying connected, he states.