Jeff Eller is no longer forced to squeeze out those last few minutes of work at the office before rushing to the airport. That's because he carries his office with him-or at least as much of it as he needs. That usually means his Apple PowerBook, which is equipped with an Apple AirPort Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) network adaptor that can be used to log on to the wireless network transceivers at half a dozen of the nation's busiest airports.
"It's slicker than all get out," says Eller, managing director of Public Strategies Inc., a public affairs consulting firm in Austin, Texas. "Now I can go to the airport two hours in advance, avoid traffic and still have the bandwidth I'm accustomed to."
Eller, who travels often, takes advantage of the growing number of Wi-Fi connections at airports and hotels nationwide, especially at his hometown's Bergstrom Airport. He arrives early, sets up in a lounge or restaurant, and starts whittling down the 250 or so e-mails he gets daily. Virtual meetings with clients via instant messaging sometimes continue right up to the departure gate.
Meanwhile, back at the office, around 20 other Public Strategies employees are using AirPort-enabled PowerBooks at their desks or in conference rooms to hook up to the company's Ethernet backbone. They are especially useful for note-taking and downloading research and slide presentations from the company's server during client meetings.
Wi-Fi-or 802.11b-is just now starting to penetrate the workplace. But it promises to bring us our product databases and price lists, maps, video-conferences, training clips, CEO pep talks and a lot more-anywhere, any time. Data transfer speeds top out at a respectable 11Mbps at the moment but should reach 54Mbps early next year.
Some of the biggest names in computing are making multimillion-dollar bets on the technology. Most wireless adaptors are sold through the system integrators and resellers of traditional networking companies-3Com, Cisco, etc. But large portable PC sellers like Compaq, Gateway and IBM also have been quick to seize the technology-none more so than Toshiba Computer Systems Group (CSG). Half Toshiba's recently introduced portables have Wi-Fi built-in, and the rest can access it through a PC Card. Toshiba is also investing heavily in installation and support services for companies of all sizes.
"I am betting big on Wi-Fi," asserts Steve Andler, vice president of marketing for Toshiba CSG. "By the end of the year, I think two-thirds of all I sell will have Wi-Fi in it. This isn't the future; this is now."