If you regularly work outside the office with a wired laptop, then you are intimately familiar with the frequent absence of port availability at the airport or the insufferably sluggish access times at your hotel.

It’s just a matter of time until IT/IS mobile workers say sayonara to extension cords and become completely wireless, according to a recent survey conducted by Arlington, Mass.-based Cutter Consortium.

The study, conducted for Cutter’s business-technology trends service, surveyed 50 IT/IS managers at companies with at least a 20 per cent mobile workforce. The findings revealed that within two years the number of wireless laptops supplied to mobile workers (workers who are trying to access corporate information away from a physical corporate location) is expected to triple. The growth of wired laptop usage will remain stable, but wireless use is expected to climb from 36 per cent this year to 75 per cent in 2002, topping 100 per cent by 2003.

The results reflect the natural progression of technology in a positive feedback cycle, according to David Gijsbers, research analyst for Cutter.

“The growth of wireless laptops devices is directly related to the increase in geographical wireless coverage. People see the business advantages of the new wireless technology, gradually they take it onboard, and so it feeds on itself – more and more areas then start providing wireless connectivity,” Gijsbers said.

The data collected also shows that use of remote access PDAs is expected to grow from 33 per cent this year to 69 per cent in 2002, and reach 89 per cent by 2003. The upward trend also applies to cell phones (54 per cent in 2001, 76 per cent in 2002, and 94 per cent by 2003).

“Growth is definitely in wireless laptops and PDAs -those are the most powerful wireless tools available to mobile professionals right now. The others have increased but not at the same dramatic rates,” Gijsbers said. “Along with wireless laptops, the numbers for PDAs and cell phones are strong, with a slower rate of growth for e-mail pagers.”

The “anytime, anywhere” appeal of wireless is undeniable, Gijsbers said.

“Wireless uses all the features of a regular laptop, and the benefits to the mobile professional are that you don’t have to look for a port. You don’t have to mess around with wires so it’s an obvious practical advantage.”

Despite the advantages, more than two-thirds of respondents (64 per cent) are adopting a wait-and-see approach before investing in new mobile technology. Most companies are holding back for fear products purchased today would be rendered obsolete in the near future.

“Companies don’t want to spend a lot of money only to find out there are new products that are a lot better,” Gijsbers said. Fifty-six per cent said the cost of such devices is also a concern and 48 per cent of respondents had security issues with wireless, he said.

The big issue for wireless is ensuring the transaction does indeed happen, said Barry Oxby, a partner for Sierra Systems in Calgary.

“It’s a different connectivity – you don’t really have the confidence that when you complete a wireless transaction that it’s been received,” Oxby said. Current speed and security drawbacks to wireless should be overcome within the next two years, he said.

Uncertainty surrounding an all wireless future should not hinder companies from bandwagon jumping right now, according to Oxby. From a cost effectiveness standpoint, Oxby believes that limited pilot programs are the answer.

“The competition will not be standing still so companies should be creating pilot programs to understand the limitations of the technology. Pilots allow companies to control the R&D and companies might initially want to look at applications that don’t require graphics.”

Anything companies purchase will become obsolete in the future so they should be positioning for wireless, Oxby said.

“Companies should plan their business processes around wireless as it allows for new applications that were not possible before and extends the applications that they currently have.”