According to a European-wide study commissioned by Cisco Systems, a leader in networking for the Internet, the uptake of wireless technology and the Internet is revolutionising modern business practice as we know it, resulting in increased productivity and huge competitive advantages for those å‘fastrackerså’ who have embraced mobile technologies.
Business travellers can benefit hugely from the liberation that mobility can offer. Choice, flexibility and freedom are all made possible with mobile technology and this has become widely recognised by busy business travellers increasingly demanding fast and secure broadband access to the Internet and their corporate networks so that they can also work efficiently outside their office. Access to emails is such an important factor that we have recently witnessed a social change.
Professionals with remote access on the road can continue to be productive, when they would otherwise have been stuck in ‘waiting time’. In effect, this creates more available hours in the day -a priceless commodity in the 21st century. The ability to do business in ‘real time’ in public spaces, or whilst on the move is indeed a dramatic development.
The Cisco Mobile Office (CMO) is a global programme that supports this trend towards mobility, offering broadband Internet access in public spaces for business travellers. The CMO provides secure remote access to a corporate LAN or the Internet, from any device, whilst travelling at key locations or ‘hot-spots’ (space or building where people gather). Examples of which include hotels, airports lounges and convention centres, as well as coffee shops and restaurants.
Cisco systems, ‘ruler of routers and sultan of switches’, has currently enabled 400 public access locations, or ‘hotspots’. A classic example of one such ‘hotspot’ is
The Hotel Estrel
, Europe’s largest business hotel. Last year, Cisco helped to develop and implement a wireless network throughout its 1125 rooms and suites, conference halls and 13-m high, glass-covered Atrium, setting new standards in Germany for communications and technology.
At Cisco’s invitation, Internet Travel News visited this innovative hotel, to test out the latest equipment.
The hotel itself has a charming Mediterranean ambiance, with several cafes and restaurants laid out in an open plan, surrounding a colourful ceramic-tiled fountain created by French artist Gilbert Portanier - creating what could be described as a small indoor village. With its modern architecture and ever-present sensation of newness, it seemed quite fitting that such cutting edge technology has been installed in this complex building. With multiple facilities available to guests under the concept of “everything under one roof”, this is the ideal location for wireless technology.
Wireless connectivity is available in public spaces of the hotel, allowing guests, conference delegates and visitors to the hotel to go online without worrying about wired connections. Guests can take advantage of wireless broadband Internet access in the lounge and in the Convention Centre, (measuring 15,000 square metres) enabling companies holding conferences to download presentations from the web and carry out live presentations.
The easiest access is for those customers who have a wireless LAN card, which costs around £50 - all they need to get started is an ID and password. Alternatively, guests can buy an access card for £5 per hour - and you really do get your money’s worth. You can log on and off when it suits you.
The credit card sized access card slots neatly into the side of a PC laptop enabling users to work wirelessly and enjoy equivalent speeds and user-friendliness to that of a fixed line modem. Downloading emails, accessing the Internet and corporate databases on the move is as easy as logging on at home or in the office. When users plug in their wireless LAN card, it automatically connects to the hotel network and to the Internet using ‘plug and play technology’ without any action from the user.
With wireless infrastructure, the Estrel has opened a door to endless opportunities, including a potential for future added value services, including personalised services, telephony, video on demand and employee services all over one IP network; resulting in cost savings
Mario Tomik, IT Manager at the Estrel describes the project as ‘very successful’, generating direct revenue. According to Mario, demand for wireless in public areas is still increasing and he expects more users as hotspots are installed in the city. He expects to achieve a positive return by the end of the year.
The main requirements for a hotspot are high-speed Internet access from a reliable service provider and an Ethernet-based IP network infrastructure capable of handling up to 10 Mbps, using both cable and wireless LAN connections.
Companies have been strongly impacted by the uncertainty in the economy. Due to budget constraints and security concerns, companies are not spending on IT at the rates predicted in 2000 and many are adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude. CIO magazine predicts that the economy will continue to hinder investments in new technologies in 2003. While companies will plod on with their wireless investment plans, the application of this technology will look different from what was imagined two to three years ago. However, it seems crucial now to stay ahead of the game. Invest in the right technology now and reap the benefits in the coming years - ‘get on the train or get hit by the train’.
I asked Steve about the outlook for the future of mobile offices in public locations. He informed me: that the European hotspot market is spreading to the UK, Holland, Denmark, Germany and also Italy: “Over the next couple of years, I predict that Europe will overtake the US with the number of hotspots overall”. In terms of mobility, Steve compared Asia to the US, which has delivered a high percentage of hotspots. He comments “Asia in parallel was starting to take off - from Cisco’s standpoint - primarily from the coffee shops”. He added: “There was a high demand for people to get broadband access to those locations to do business over coffee. I’d say from a timing and quantity of hotspots standpoint, Asia is parallel to America”.
According to Steve, Europe is definitely going mobile: “Statistics from IDC indicate that by 2006, there will be 200 million mobile users and 18, 000 venues offering this kind of connectivity in Western Europe - a phenomenal growth rate of mobile product devices”. To put this in perspective, it shows an even greater growth rate than new internet users.
Additionally, Frost and Sullivan
expects that by 2006, the turnover of European public wireless LAN access services will grow from $4.12 million this year to more than $3 billion. Steve adds, “There is no doubt that this is an exciting market. Over the last 12 months, Europe has really started catching up and the hotspots will develop in all areas”.