Six Wireless Tips for the Business Traveller

By Peter Lee -

IBM PCD’s Wireless Technology Strategist


In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a virtual land slide going on in
wireless computing.  Access points (small radio transmitters and receivers)
are being installed in an increasing number of public places to communicate
with wireless-equipped PCs. This increases your ability to be productive
and do business on the move considerably.

Hot-spots, hot-zones and new wireless services are emerging in airports
terminals, hotels, conference areas, restaurants and coffee shops and now
is the time take advantage this new era.


The UK is ahead of the rest of Europe in wireless Internet access, and its
Wi-Fi hot spots will be used by 456,000 people this year, according to a
study by Gartner Research
. The different wireless standards have now
reached full development and there are many access packages available
including free access, fee-based access, monthly plans and by-the-minute
plans.


It’s the beginning of a big movement in computing, and sorting out hype
from reality takes experience. To provide the long view, Peter Lee, IBM’s
Wireless Technology Strategist for Personal Computing Division, offers this
advice.

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Wireless access is in transition from being the province of casual users to
being a tool for everyday business users. Statistics make this obvious. But
going wireless requires education and preparation. Lee says there are six
steps in becoming a wireless guru, or at least a successful wireless
business traveller:


1. Get Equipped

To do wireless notebook computing you need a notebook with a wireless radio
(either a PC Card adapter or integrated radio), wireless configuration
software, and security software in the form of a Virtual Private Network
(VPN) or personal firewall.  Some notebooks make this easier than others
and ideally you need a notebook which allows easy setup of secure wireless
solutions and connection software. A notebook which features an integrated
antenna and a broad selection of radios will also simplify the connection
process.

2. Pre-Trip Scouting


So many varieties of wireless access exist, based on so many business
models, that business travellers can benefit from doing a little pre-trip
scouting on the Internet before embarking on a trip. When you know which
airports you’re passing through, what hotel you’re staying at, what part of
the city you’re in, and what conference you’re attending, Web sites can
tell you what wireless service is available there. These services will
vary, depending on your itinerary. You’ll probably end up using several
solutions - wired dial up or ethernet in your hotel room, a fee-based
wireless service accessed through a browser in the airport, a free service
in a coffee shop or in the exhibition space of a business conference. In
all these cases, a tool which helps you sniff out these services and
automatically create a location profile for your notebook to access the
internet or intranet.

3. Multi-Tiered Approach


The most common Wi-Fi wireless access standard, found in hotel lobbies,
airports, and coffee houses, is 802.11b. But as a business traveller you
don’t have to stick to one technology to get network access. You can adopt
a tiered approach. In a hotel room, dial-up or wired ethernet access is
usually the easiest, cheapest, and most pervasive connection method. Hotel
lobbies and public spaces like conference rooms usually feature 802.11b
wireless access, sometimes free, sometimes fee-based. Airports offer
802.11b access, usually fee-based, most commonly in frequent flyer lounges
but increasingly in public waiting areas. And the most pervasive form of
wireless data access is with the GSM/GPRS network, this access can be
accomplish with a either a GPRS PC card that plugs into the notebook or a
Bluetooth enabled GPRS mobile phone.


4. Finding the Network


When you’re in a space bathed in wireless waves, you need a notebook
computer that can sniff out, or detect, the network as easily and quickly
as possible. After that, depending on whether the network is free or
fee-based, you generally pass through a Web browser screen where you enter
credit card information. You can then access the Web. If you’re a corporate
user, you’ll probably then need to activate your VPN-based software program
to create a secure tunnel for accessing secure e-mail or internal company
websites.


Because wireless access points, or transmitters, are usually hidden, it can
take experimentation to determine the best place to locate yourself. It’s
helpful if you know that they’re usually located up high, tucked behind
signage or above ceiling tiles, and that structures like walls affect
wireless reception. Generally, you can determine the best possible
reception by looking at the receive signal strength for the access point
that you are associated with. Wireless network designers usually try to
locate them close to the centre of the area where they’ll be used. You can
use this to your advantage. If you’re having trouble finding a hotspot in
an airport, camp out in a waiting area near a frequent flyer club.
Reception is often acceptable outside the walls of the club.


5. Security Considerations


If you’re a corporate user, your IT department has probably configured your
notebook with a VPN-based software program. This creates a hardened, secure
tunnel for transmitting and receiving data, and it’s extremely secure. If
you’re an individual user, you’ll probably be using wireless to access
Internet Web sites and Web-based e-mail. You’ll need a personal firewall to
protect the data on your notebook. And if you use a notebook with an
embedded security subsystem, you can store your encryption keys and provide
an additional layer of protection for your data, even if your notebook is
stolen.


6. Preparing for the Future


Wireless business models change so quickly that you need to be careful
about getting tied into long-term agreements. New mobile phone standards
are also evolving, including GPRS’ s evolution to EDGE. These new standards
will mean a three-fold improvement in data performance, creating additional
wireless options. News about restaurants and coffee houses adding new
wireless services, sometimes free, emerges on a daily basis. New
sociological behaviours are creating new wireless models and people are
putting up their own free-access wireless networks. The wireless era is
just beginning.


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