The year of going wireless

Saturday, 11 September, 2004

With wireless technology such as Wi-Fi becoming ever more popular and commonplace, Sean Casey from Intel takes a look at the year that really saw it take off and at the trends for the coming years.

It could be said that 2003 was the year of going wireless. The industry has shown us that the use of wireless (also known as Wi-Fi) is quickly becoming mainstream for home, office and mobile users. For example, the launch of Intel Centrino mobile technology for notebooks brings new capabilities, including integrated wireless LAN connectivity and extended battery life that unwire the mobile PC and change where and how people compute and communicate.

Gartner predicts that by 2007 about 120,000 WLAN hotspot gateways, which is up from an estimated 20,000 this year, will exist worldwide and revenue from WLAN hotspot users will surpass US$9 billion, up from about US$1 billion in 2003. Connectivity continues at hotels, airports, restaurants, convention centres and other public venues.

The increased use of notebooks at work and at home continues to grow at an amazing pace, despite the sluggish economy that has put a lid on spending around the world. According to Gartner, the notebook segment represented 18% of the overall PC market segment in the first quarter of 2003, compared with a 15% market segment share in the same period of 20021. IDC also foresees an increase in the percentage of overall PC shipments represented by notebook sales. Notebooks were expected to account for 25% of worldwide PC sales in 2003 and 27% in 20042. By 2005, it is estimated that 80% of all commercial notebooks sold worldwide will be wirelessly-enabled3.

From PC makers to service providers to airports, hotels and retail locations, we are seeing strong acceptance for mobile technology worldwide. When introduced in March 2003 there were 34 systems enabled with Intel Centrino mobile technology. It was expected that more than 130 designs would be available for sale by the end of the year. Intel verified the interoperability of mobile technology with more than 20,000 hotspots worldwide, well exceeding its end-of-2003 goal of 10,000.

Notebooks give the workforce new freedom to stay connected and take advantage of the extra efficiency gains that wireless technology offers. Mobility allows users to gain freedom and flexibility, and enjoy the productivity and lifestyle advantages at work, school or the home, or while on the go. Mobility will definitely continue to ride the wave of success into the future.

Mobile computing is rapidly taking off, spurred by the introduction of mobile technology-based notebook PCs and a multitude of handheld devices, 802.11 wireless hot spots, infrastructure and services. If the speculated mobile computing adoption rate follows an exponential adoption curve like the internet, businesses simply cannot afford to miss out on the productivity and efficiency gains mobility has to offer.

Still a sceptic? Consider the real business benefits mobility offers everyone. Whether a small or medium business, large corporation, public sector or non-profit organisation, mobility can help better meet the needs of customers, suppliers, stakeholders or trading partners. Users can work productively in conference rooms, when travelling between meetings, or at other times when they are not in the office but need to get things done.

Motivated by increased productivity, business users are opting for notebooks instead of the bulky desktop. No longer tethered to their desks, users expect wireless will allow them to be productive while they are on the go, even if that is simply going from an office to a conference room or another office within the same building. But companies should think mobility, not just wireless.

Showing that it is happy to practise what it preaches, Intel itself is a highly mobile business with more than 65% of its 79,000 staff globally using mobile PCs, and over 80 wireless LAN deployments throughout the company's operations. Intel carried out research on how wireless-enabled notebooks changed the habits and productivity of its employees who were upgraded to notebooks using mobile technology, compared to using older Pentium II processor-based notebooks. Employees realised a productivity gain of more than two hours per week, more than paying for the cost of the upgrades in the first year, and up to 37% faster completion of common office tasks. In addition, wireless mobility changed the way employees work, giving them more control and flexibility over their work.

PDAs going mainstream too

Like notebooks and mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) have become mainstream devices, not just a 'nice to have technology'. PDA sales were expected to increase in 2003, according to a report published by Instat/MDR, and the research firm predicts an 18.3% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the 2002-2007 period. Shipments were estimated to rise from 11 million units in 2002 to 13.9 million units in 2003, thanks to lower unit prices, improved operating systems, and a wave of multimedia and wireless functionality being integrated into PDAs4.

Responding to the needs of IT

In 2003, the industry saw signs of improvement as companies began to invest in IT to improve their business operations and employee productivity.

The industry also saw a need for mobility in the workforce. A mobile workforce increases productivity and convenience and helps save costs. A Gartner report found that enterprises with less than 35% of the workforce using notebooks may not be receiving full capacity from their workers. And a Siemens Business Systems study found that companies had an average three-year life cycle for their PCs, and that these devices should all be replaced by the fourth year in order to keep up with new and emerging applications that require more processing power, including accessing web services on the desktop and videoconferencing. That same Gartner report also estimated that normal failure or breakdown rates for notebook PCs during their three-year life span was about 20%. This increased to 50% just by stretching their use another year.

The same goes for desktop PCs. According to Meta Group, extending the desktop life cycle from three to four years costs an enterprise approximately US$350 per user/per year5. You can imagine how much greater the costs are for businesses that have been keeping their PCs for four to five years based on large pre-Y2K installments6. It makes financial sense that executives are seriously considering upgrades.

Companies continue to look for ways to increase competitive advantage. Businesses today recognise the need for speed - to have users get more done in less time. This increase in productivity allows workers to focus on their core business, and not be concerned with technology's connectivity or performance. This rationale is why we've seen strong demand for Intel's Pentium 4 processor supporting Hyper-Threading (HT) with 800 MHz front side bus, which maximises the efficiency of the processor by allowing it to complete more tasks in a given amount of time.

Mobility is a trend which continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing. Businesses and employees who refuse to embrace mobility will miss out on the productivity and efficiency gains that it provides.

In an environment where information access and productivity are essentials for a company to remain competitive, enabling a mobile workforce is a must. Failure to take advantage of mobility will leave your head permanently stuck in the sand and your customers looking elsewhere.


  1. Gartner, May 2003
  2. IDG News Service, October 2003
  3. Gartner, September 2003
  4. Instat/MDR, February 2003
  5. Meta Group, "PC Portfolio Management," January, 2002
  6. Gartner, February 2003
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