Take It Outside!

Playing It Safe

The Goffs also use a wireless computer security system developed by one of their clients, Ensure Technologies. The XyLoc uses wireless radio technology to keep track of the user's proximity to the computer and locks it down when you're away. Home-office users who keep sensitive data on their desktops or have to take their laptops to client sites could find a use for the $179 XyLoc Solo. This kind of device isn't for everyone, but it illustrates the range of wireless solutions available to entrepreneurs.

No discussion of security is complete without looking at securing your wireless network. Your first line of defense is to enable the WEP encryption that comes built into your equipment. Most users have to plug in the encryption code to each piece of hardware they connect. This helps keep snoopers out of your network. "It's more a good policy vs. paranoia," says Michael.

Another technology picking up speed is Bluetooth. As a compliment to Wi-Fi, it's finding a niche as a wire-replacement technology. With a range of about 10 yards, a top use for Bluetooth is mobile phone headsets. You can drive or just walk around and talk with no dangling wires. For very mobile entrepreneurs who need e-mail access no matter where they are, Phillips recommends using a PDA Bluetooth card to connect to a Bluetooth-enabled phone and check your e-mail wherever you have cell service. If this appeals to you, look for built-in Bluetooth when purchasing your next phone.

Speaking of phones, the Goffs recently switched over to Nextel Communications' walkie-talkie phones. Michael says he's still getting used to the instant-connection feature but expects it to pay off as he learns which of his clients and contacts also have it. To simplify matters, he uses Linx Communications' LinxConnect service. This lets him use one phone number for all his calls, messages and faxes. An incoming call rings both his office phone and his mobile phone so he can get the call whether he's inside, outside or traveling. Fees for a service like this start at about $20 per month after the initial setup cost. As entrepreneurs know, a missed call can mean missed business; and nobody really enjoys playing the game of voice-mail tag.

Smart Shopping

When it comes to buying hardware, from mobile phones to wireless routers, there are many ways to save money without cutting corners or compromising on quality. Start by doing a bit of research. Look for buyers' reviews online, at sites like CNET.com and Amazon.com, and ask your entrepreneurial peers about their equipment experiences. Or you can do as Oosterhous did and bring in an outside consultant. Things to look for include ease of installation, the quality and responsiveness of technical support, and hardware reliability. You don't want to realize several months after the purchase that your phone doesn't have a long enough battery life or that your router crashes at inopportune moments.

Once you're ready to buy, compare prices locally and online (don't forget the shipping costs) to find the best deal. Rebates are commonly available on top-brand Wi-Fi products, so check the Sunday ads. The same goes for mobile phones and wireless expansion cards for PDAs. Because of his experience, friends often ask Michael for advice on wireless purchasing. He suggests, "Buy a little bit more than you need so it will last a little bit longer, but don't go crazy. You've got to be able to justify it." There's a lot of competition out there in the wireless marketplace, so take advantage of it to find quality products at prices that will fit your budget.

For Oosterhous, wireless technology has been a big boost to her homebased business. "It makes it more efficient because it allows me to get it right the first time," she says. "We've been able to do more business. Every sale is important." Increased productivity and efficiency are the ultimate complements when it comes to business technology. Since most home-office setups are fairly straightforward, implementing wireless technologies is not a daunting proposition. Use your small size to your advantage, and let technology help make your business stronger. Once you've gone wireless, you won't ever want to go back.

Before You Leap
We know entrepreneurs like to research technology and hardware before they buy. As usual, there's no more convenient place to read up on wireless than online. Starting with Wi-Fi, visit the Wi-Fi Alliancefor information on designing a Wi-Fi network and wireless security. Wi-Fi Planetand Wi-Fi Networking Newsare places to keep up on the latest news and announcements. When you head out on the road and need a hot spot at your destination, visit WiFinderto find both pay- and free-access locations.

For more on Bluetooth products, using Bluetooth and related news, visit the official Bluetoothsite. Mac users can get information specific to their computers at the Apple Bluetoothsite. These sites are good places for people who are unfamiliar with the technology to get ideas on how to incorporate it into their home offices.

Whittling your way through the masses of mobile phones on the market is another matter. User reviews can be a good way to narrow down your choices. Phone Scoophas an extensive database of information and reviews. You can search by carrier or look up a specific model. Take a little time to do your research, and it will pay off in the long run.

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Take It Outside!.

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