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Cisco manager touts wireless advantages

Madison, Wis. - If wireless keeps growing at its present rate employees may not even need an office to get their work done, says a wireless channel manager for Cisco Systems.

The manager, Bruce Alexander, spoke at a recent Accelerate Madison program, saying the surging interest in wireless communications could be a defining feature for corporations over the next few years. With costs falling and enhancements increasing, mobility has become the buzzword for companies seeking an edge in the marketplace, he said.

The main reason wireless has become so attractive to businesses, Alexander said, is that it eliminates the dead time so many employees have to experience before meetings or while waiting to catch a flight. Mobile devices mean that in those five to 10 minutes, it's possible to answer some e-mails or instant-message facts to co-workers, eliminating the "do it when I get back to my desk" syndrome.

"The one location where we have to do our job is the one place we don't spend much time," Alexander said. "We have to be able to get real-time communications wherever we are - whether I'm in Madison or my Akron, Ohio office or Tokyo, Japan."

Those needs are present across all industries, with applications to mobile healthcare, inventory management, point of sale, video surveillance, real-time data and asset tracking. Despite the differences between each industry, they share a common set of needs - being able to get data at any location, quickly and with guaranteed security, he said.
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To provide such capabilities to their employees, businesses have taken steps to make sure that their entire office building has wireless capability. Some buildings have multiple wireless routers installed that work with each other to provide complete access, able to expand their coverage area if one router fails so it is always available.

Since security is vital to those networks, Alexander said companies also have the ability to monitor the network and see where employees have brought their own routers from home so they can be shut down. These routers, which overlap with existing systems, could open the network to viruses or illegal access of data.

Wireless applications have also begun moving outside the office, with routers installed inside metro vehicles such as trains to provide access while in transit. Police cars also have network connections in their cars to link up their laptops, video cameras, printers and scanners, while ambulances can have full video teleconference from paramedics to the hospital.

"Those are the kind of applications that bring wireless to life," Alexander said. "It just shows you the level of acceptance wireless has today, to be used in life-saving conditions."

Beyond its technical improvements, Alexander said, wireless has evolved to the point where companies cannot afford to ignore its impact. The mobile market has grown from $503 million to $2 billion in only a few years, and more than 95 percent of laptop computers made today possess wireless capability built in.

"Wireless is no longer a toy, it will migrate, it will snowball," Alexander said. "If you plan a small implementation as a one-time thing, you're asking for trouble."

Les Chappell is a writer for WTN in Madison. He can be reached at les@wistechnology.com
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