Teleworkers look to cut the cables that bind

Despite the caveat that you shouldn’t bring your work home with you, many people are doing just that and with current travel fears and a heightened demand for work flexibility putting a spotlight on teleworking, it’s no surprise that some attendees at the Comdex Fall exhibition in Las Vegas this week spent their time looking for ways to help make remote working less of a chore.

While laptops and handhelds have long been the main tools of teleworking, Comdex attendees this year were looking to free themselves from the ties that bind them, with wireless Internet connections, mobile video conferencing and even video instant messaging.

Wireless Net access was the leading telework trend this year, with some attendees saying that even tight budgets would not keep them from upgrading their networks to wireless.

Tom Belarus was at Comdex Thursday looking into new technologies for the police department in Bakersfield, Calif. The city wants to give police officers laptops equipped with wireless access so they could be both mobile and in touch. While Belarus conceded that budgets are tight, wireless technology is something the city is still willing to shell out cash for.

“Wireless is something we need. It’s in the budget and we are looking for what’s new,” said Belarus.

One company hearkening to consumers’ wireless calls is Intel Corp., which announced a suite of high-speed wireless networking products for home and corporate networks this week.

Intel introduced the PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN family of products, which includes wireless hub access points, desktop PC and notebook PC adapters and software, the company said.

Intel’s PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN Access Point is priced at US$499, while its PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN CardBus Adapter for notebook PCs is US$179 and the PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN PCI Adapter for desktop PCs is set at US$229. All three products are based on the IEEE 802.11b standard and are currently available in the U.S. and selected countries where regulatory approval exists, Intel said.

In an effort to free up handhelds, SMC Networks Inc., launched its EZ Connect 11 mbps (bits per second) Wireless Compact Flash card, which arms handheld devices with wireless connectivity. Also based on 802.11b, the EZ Connect flash card offers a maximum transmission distance of up to 1,000 feet, and operates at data transfer speeds of up to 11 mbps. The company also said that the product ensures security across the network, offering 64-bit or 128-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption.

Intel and SMC Networks new offerings are just a sample of the wide range of wireless products that have entered the market over the last couple years as users, hooked, so to speak, on their wireless networks at work, look to connect to them from home.

Another growing trend for remote work is videoconferencing and Web broadcasting, which have proven popular alternatives to travel, especially since Sept. 11.

New in videoconferencing at Comdex was GlobalStreams Inc.’s integrated video desktop presentation product dubbed OnQ. With a video camera, OnQ software, and OnQvideo capture hardware, users can create live Web presentations, complete with video, Microsoft PowerPoint and instant messaging (IM) capabilities. OnQ is priced at US$1,000 and will be available in February of next year, according to GlobalStreams executive vice-president David Hellier. Products such as these could prove useful tools for companies that want to maintain affordable and effective communications with their legions of road warriors and teleworkers.

Not to leave handhelds out of the video conferencing boom, Cutting Edge Software, Inc. announced that it would release a wireless application conference product called Quickoffice Conference in the first quarter of next year.

The company’s new conferencing software adds wireless networking to Cutting Edge’s Quickoffice suite of word processing, spreadsheet and charting applications for handheld devices based on the Palm OS operating system from Palm Inc. Corporate users will be able to collaborate on projects via their handhelds, and regardless of location. The technology includes peer-to-peer and peer-to-multi-peer conferencing capabilities and supports the 802.11b wireless LAN protocol, among others.

For less formal communications, Eyeball Networks Inc. introduced the new version of its Eyeball Chat software at Comdex this week. Eyeball Chat 2.0 is a video instant messenger that support multiple instant messengers and video messaging, including America Online Inc.’s Instant Messenger (AIM) and Yahoo Inc. Messenger. Users can record, send and playback messages as well as conduct file transfers in addition to messaging. Eyeball Chat 2.0 is currently available via free download from

With all the offerings on hand at Comdex, teleworkers hungry for wireless applications should have been able to find something to meet their needs.

– IDG News Service San Francisco correspondent Matt Berger contributed to this report.

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