The Year of the Mobile Worker

UPDATED: To help you keep up with the latest gear, gadgets and 802.11 standards, we've brought it all together here in this 2004 Mobile Worker guide.

UPDATED: It may be the year of the monkey in the Chinese calendar but according to the tech calendar, this is going to be the year of the mobile worker.

Why? Because wireless communication is finally a practical tool for small and large businesses.

Wi-Fi, for example, was once a novelty in coffee shops and downtown cafes. Now road warriors habitually flip open laptops in airports and hotel lobbies and expect to be instantly connected to the Web. Rogue access points in the enterprise are a daily headache. And improved data services and better smart phone designs (yes, we actually like the Treo 600) are enticing more people to cut the cord and deal with e-mail away from the office.

Indeed, one study by Ipsos-Reid found that a typical mobile worker who tapped into wireless e-mail was able to recover an average of 53 work minutes a day. That spells improved productivity, immediacy and flexibility for workers—and more work for IT departments. So, to help you keep up with the latest gear, gadgets and 802.11 standards, weve brought it all together here in this Mobile Worker guide.

A Guide for the Mobile Worker
When one of the largest wireless phone service providers in the United States decides to change its tune on its wireless-performance needs, you know its the year of the mobile worker. Verizon Wireless, in an effort to take back the performance lead from AT&T Wireless, announced plans that "it will spend $1 billion ... with an even speedier technology that just months ago the company insisted was not an urgent need."

What better way to have a guide in January than with a predictions column? Heres a look at John R. Quains take on whats on tap for 2004: "If there is one clear signal to be detected in the ether of the wireless world, it is the voice of the end user. ... Analysts at the META Group recently crowed that 802.11 wireless access wont be a major factor in large enterprises this year. Dont believe it. The end user has spoken, and Wi-Fi is invading the enterprise whether IT departments want it or not."

Theres no way to have a full discussion of wirelesss near future without examining security concerns. Security researchers and the press have had a field day exposing more and more security vulnerabilities in wireless networks. If you believe the hype, you would think wireless networking so porous as to be useless.

eWEEK.com aims to help distinguish the hype from reality. Heres our special report, "Wireless Security: The Gaps and How to Fill Them," full of analysis and advice on how to best secure wireless networks, control wireless chaos and find technologies that wont kill your budget.

It may not happen this year completely, yet eWEEK Labs Cameron Sturdevant takes a close look at the emerging 802.3af specification, Power over Ethernet, in his column "Power Over Ethernet Will Be Part of Your Future," where he astutely highlights trends for the mobile industrial worker: "From the factory floor and walk-in freezers to HVAC equipment and security-badge readers, new low-power, easy-to-install devices will start to pop up wherever IT can run an Ethernet cable."

Radio frequency ID (RFID) tagging, a wireless inventory tracking technology, has had a lot of attention over the past year, largely due to Wal-Mart Corp.s mandate that all of its suppliers be compliant with the technology by 2005. And while there are many issues to be worked out (privacy, security and huge capital costs), there are some industrial mobile worker applications to this technology already reaping benefits.

Heres what Joseph C. Panettieri, who is the editorial director of the New York Institute of Technology, said in his recent eWEEK article "Time Is on RFIDs Side": "Instead of blanketing the supply chain with RFID, some manufacturers are embracing the technology on a smaller scale. ... In one example, RFID readers prevent forklifts from placing the wrong materials into a mechanical mixer. ... International Paper Co. recently activated a similar tracking system. ... The system transmits routing instructions to forklift operators in real time using RFID. Each roll of paper in the factory has a unique RFID tag ..."

And finally, last weeks 2004 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a significant indicator of what will further the "always-on" cause for the mobile workers road, home and virtual offices. Take a look at what concepts, gear and gadgets our Ziff Davis comrades found out in Sin City from this years CES. We are certain this info will make your telecommuting and communication better from any location:

And be sure to check out eWEEK.com columnist Rob Endereles piece, "The Mobile World of CES," which includes the inside scoop on how licensed manufacturers of Microsofts CE platform are developing valuable, useful handheld devices: "For a fraction of the cost to develop the base platform needed for a device to connect easily with other systems, the manufacturer can license embedded CE from Microsoft and cut months—if not years—from its development time." Read how.