No strings attached

The completely wireless office has remained the holy grail of wireless aficionados for years, but when will all the workers in a company be able to cut the wires and operate with voice, data and video running over Wi-Fi to the cellular network, or an assortment of other networks?

Well, it just so happens that attaining the wireless office is more than a parlor game for theoreticians and, in fact, is beginning to take shape. The largest announced wireless office deployment so far is at Osaka Gas Co. Ltd. in Osaka, Japan, according to Ken Dulaney, a Gartner Inc. analyst who studies such matters.

About 6,000 dual mode (Wi-Fi and cellular) phones were deployed from May 2005 to March 2006 at Osaka Gas’ offices throughout Japan for the company’s 6,000 full-time workers, said Koji Matsumoto, manager for the networking technology team.

Even so, the deployment is not without compromises to the wired world, he said. Osaka still has an additional 6,000 wired phones, including 4,000 that are IP-based and used for 3,000 temporary workers who don’t need the wireless mobility. Another 2,000 wired analog phones are being kept for emergencies such as loss of power in an earthquake, Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto said the total investment in the project was about US$10 million, an amount that will be returned in two years because annual costs have dropped by $5 million, due to reduced costs for maintenance, operations and telephone charges.

Generally speaking, the Osaka experience shows an all-wireless office is attainable, Dulaney said. “Now that it’s been done by a credible enterprise, others should look at it closely,” he said. “Many customers have called me regarding the all-wireless office, but I would be pleased if we got even one percent penetration. It’s hard to get there mentally for many companies.”

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