By Jeff Vedders

It seems like all we hear about these days is wireless.  It’s almost taken on the degree of magnitude and hype as the terms Internet and e-Business did a few years ago.  Everything you read says that wireless technology is going to change how we do business and how we interact with computers and the Internet.  That’s nice and all, but wireless still has a ways to go to live up to current expectations.

I purchased a notebook computer a few months ago.  My computer came with a wireless card, so naturally I was excited to try it out.  Our office has a wireless network, and I also have one installed at home.  Indeed, once I got everything installed and working, it was pretty cool.  At home it was nice to be able to access the Internet and check email from anywhere in the house. 

I figured that since I was able to access the Internet wirelessly, I would also be able to do so while traveling.  It seemed natural that airports and hotels would offer wireless connectivity.  But strangely, wireless services are difficult to find.  And when you do find wireless service, you either have to pay for it, or it’s extremely difficult to figure out how to connect to it.

I recently came across an article on BusinessWeek Online that illustrates why wireless service is so difficult to find and use.  While wireless technology is definitely hyped these days (and maybe even over-hyped), several barriers prevent the successful implementation of wireless services.  These barriers include:

  •  Many consumers are not even aware wireless exists.
  • Where it does exist, different and confusing ways to actually access the technology prevent use.
  • Security is a huge obstacle, and one that will have to be overcome before companies roll it out in big numbers.  In fact, only 10% of big companies have installed wireless networks to date.
  • A lack of roaming agreements prevents customers who buy wireless service from a phone company from using it anywhere in the country.
  • The wireless service market is extremely fractured, which makes seamless roaming impossible.  Tracking and servicing customers from one provider to the next is complicated with billing and logon problems.
  • Currently only 20,000 to 25,000 commercial “hotspots” exist.  Each “hotspot” has a range of about 200 feet, so even if you could connect them all together, they don’t come close to covering all of the locations where consumers want to use wireless.
  • It’s generally not yet available in the air.

To top all of this off, competing wireless technologies are being developed that, while offering better service and range than current wireless technology (802.11b), contribute to customer confusion.

While I do believe that wireless technology is the wave of the future, don’t forget to pack a network and phone cable in your travel bag.

Source: “Before Wi-Fi Can Go Mainstream,” Alex Salkever, BusinessWeek Online, February 18, 2004.