Intel sees wireless computing set to soar

According to an international survey on the communication habits and needs of business travellers released last fall by Intel Corp., 71 per cent of business travellers are convinced that wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) will enable them to seize a communications advantage over their competition. While only one in ten of these road warriors has tried Wi-Fi, nearly 90 per cent see wireless computing in their future. Being without Internet access while travelling puts business people in an awkward position with bosses, co-workers and customers who have become accustomed to expect prompt email responses, the Intel survey reveals.

When working in the office, 31 per cent of road warriors reply to email within one hour, compared to only seven per cent responding within an hour when travelling, said Intel. Thirty per cent do not respond to email for 48 hours or more while on a business trip. One third of survey respondents said that by not having timely access to the Internet while on the road, they have suffered significant consequences such as missed meetings, lost revenue, irate customers, disappointed family members and even job termination.

With built-in Wi-Fi viewed as the next logical step in mobile computing, 70 per cent of respondents said they intend to buy a Wi-Fi-enabled notebook when they make their next notebook PC purchase.

The survey was fielded with airport intercept interviews among business people who take at least eight to 10 overnight trips a year. The 437 respondents represented Asia, Canada, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

The survey also revealed that 64 per cent of Canadian business travelers take their laptops on business trips.

Doug Cooper, country manager, Intel Canada, points out that many IT shops at Canadian manufacturers and retailers are looking at ways to use wireless to get at hard to reach environments and reduce the cost of communication. He says “a lot has been done on wireless to make it a more cost-effective communications infrastructure than having to drag wires.” However, there remains a “perceived exposure [that] all your information is floating out in the ether.”

Because of this, until the last part of this year, most companies have tried to clamp down on the use of wireless and have not thought about its ROI.

While Cooper admits that wireless can be a security risk, he also argues that it can be more secure than wireline, provided security precautions are taken.

He says it is important to disable the unit’s file sharing capability and to use a firewall where the Internet connects to the wireless device. “What a lot of companies have done at this point is put their access point hardware outside their company firewall so that if anyone did crack into it, they cannot get to company information.”

Also, if the unit is stolen, proprietary or confidential information must remain secure. That often involves encrypting a file system on the machine. If someone got to the internal network inside the firewall, the information is still encrypted whereas normal traffic over a wire is not encrypted because the feeling is that it is safe, he notes. Some companies, like IBM, provide hardware assistance with encrypting, he adds.

Cooper admits that the current protocols such as WEP (wired equivalent privacy) are more of a privacy issue as opposed to a true security component, but predicts that systems will become “a lot more robust into 2004.”

Also, anyone that uses wireless uses VPN to connect to the company network, which allows people working at home to use the public Internet service securely, he says. “Now there is more proof of concept as the early adopters really saw the benefit [of wireless],” he adds. “They had a problem, wireless solved it and they have figured out the ways to lock down the network. If that knowledge was broadly known, there would be a lot more adoption of wireless.” Intel fully expects that wireless will be the standard practice at home, within the office building and on the road, says Cooper.

Another plus on the horizon for wireless is what he describes as “a general move to have switching gear become more intelligent.” Microprocessor technology in switching gears allows them to be more adaptable and multi-functional. The newer switches will replace the existing switches in communications which have a fairly fixed function and are not designed to deal with new and emerging threats, he says.

He says the potential exists today to have very high performance processors at the edge of the network.

He cites the example of an online retail site receiving a denial of service attack where multiple locations getting hit from a single IP address are kept too busy to service outside requests. “An intelligent switch would recognize that it was getting packets coming in at such a frequency that it would filter out the traffic from those locations. That would dynamically, within milliseconds, turn off any type of denial of service attack.”

He says the intelligent switch would also be able to determine if the packets coming in have viruses, a Trojan or is from a masked site and so represent a potential security risk.

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