Road warriors warming to wireless

Many business travellers view wireless computing technology as a business necessity only a year after “hotspots” – places where people can tap into a wireless Internet connection with their notebook PCs – became available in cafes, hotels and airports, according to an international survey of business travellers released recently by Intel Corp. Today, there are approximately 20,000 hotspots worldwide, a number expected to grow six fold by 2005.

Seventy-one percent of road warriors who responded to the survey are convinced that Wi-Fi – short for wireless fidelity – will enable business travellers to seize a communications advantage over their competition. While only one in ten road warriors has tried Wi-Fi, nearly 90 per cent see wireless computing in their future.

The survey also revealed that 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. When working in the office, 31 per cent of surveyed road warriors reply to email within one hour. When they are travelling, only seven percent respond within that same time frame. Thirty percent do not respond to email for 48 hours or more while on a business trip. One third of survey respondents said they have suffered significant consequences – such as missed meetings, lost revenue, irate customers, disappointed family members and even job termination – as a result of not having timely access to the Internet while on the road.

While business travellers predictably identified airports (77 per cent), hotels (76 per cent) and airplanes (60 per cent) as the places where they most need hotspots, they also expressed a desire to have wireless Internet access in automobiles, trains and hospitals.

Seventy per cent of road warriors said they intend to buy a Wi-Fi-enabled notebook when they make their next notebook PC purchase. Analysts foresee dramatic growth in sales of wireless-enabled notebook PCs. Market research firm IDC predicts that wireless-enabled notebooks will represent 42 per cent of all mobile PC sales in 2003 and 95 per cent in 2006.

“Road warriors were the first consumers to make cell phones part of their daily business lives more than 20 years ago, and Wi-Fi is following a similar life cycle,” said Sean Maloney, executive vice president, Intel. “Right now, we see business travellers and technology buffs using Wi-Fi, but the technology will spread to general consumers as they become aware of the benefits of true mobile computing.”