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Wireless Is Working in More Offices

Some go beyond individual cell phones, using networks that allow workers to take phones with them around the office, saving time and money.


If phone tag is not your idea of honorable sport, step into the wireless office.

Loosely defined as anything from a cell phone to an in-house network that allows workers to take their phones with them anywhere on a corporate campus, the wireless office is coming. And fast.

Sixty-five percent of all business calls are handled through voicemail, said William E. Landis, president of TuWay Wireless, based near Allentown, Pa.

Some companies are using a wireless local area network, or LAN, system made up of ceiling transmitters teamed with untethered handsets. They're saving a fortune in time and long-distance call-back charges, he said.

"You take a wired phone and make it mobile," Landis said. "This is very big."

For companies focused on productivity, mobility is becoming more and more of an issue, he said. If a worker steps away from his desk to go to the production floor or to a meeting, chances of missing a call are good.

"Being paged is so obtrusive, and you can't stay in your office waiting for a call," Landis said.

The reason to switch is mobility, he said. But it has other benefits, such as ease of remodeling an office because of the absence of cabling.

And because it's a digital interface, not analog, it can't be tapped, he said.

Wireless also is becoming popular because businesspeople need to talk, but not at typical mobile-phone rates of up to 9 cents a minute, Landis said.

The wireless systems he sells have an installation fee, but then the costs drop dramatically, dwarfing what it would cost to cleave to cell phones, he said.

Depending on the size of the plant, a company can spend as little as $10,000 or as much $150,000 to cut the cords, Landis said.

And because installation really only involves hanging antennas, stringing them together and putting them in a box, a system can take as little as a few days to install and never more than a couple of weeks.

As popular as wireless devices may be, however, there will be no mass exodus from wires, said Tim Burke, a telecommunications analyst for Edward Jones Investments in St. Louis.

"Wireless is starting to gain popularity, but there won't be a wholesale replacement of wires in either the near or far future," Burke said.

Major companies are wired already, and they're not about to get rid of all that, he said. However, the trend is gaining momentum among small start-up businesses and expansions.

Burke also had doubts about the reliability of wireless systems.

"For short distances, they're very reliable," he said. But the greater the distance, the better the chance quality will suffer, he said.

He acknowledged that wireless systems have come a long way, even in the last five years. Costs have come down and reliability and speed are coming close to that offered by wired connections.

He says another drawback is the security issue.

"If it's wireless, they may say it's secure, but expensive data is still being sent through the air. It won't surpass a wired system," he said.

Not everyone agrees.

"Most, if not all, the systems are digital, which makes them very secure as far as eavesdropping goes," said Bill Belt, director of the wireless communication division at the Telecommunications Industry Assn. in Alexandria, Va. "They're encrypted, and as yet there's no way to break the codes."

The trend toward wireless is becoming more popular because people demand that communication follow them everywhere, Belt said.

"Ten years ago it was OK to only have a phone in your car--and then only on main roads. Then the demand went to secondary roads, and now people want to use phones at home, at work, in the car and also in the subway and sports arena," he said.

Belt predicts that the wireless office will grow exponentially in the next five years, and that most providers will offer basically the same products and amenities and will have to find ways of distinguishing themselves to make a profit.

"What we'll see is that companies will have to differentiate themselves by targeting any high-visibility building in the area--a convention center, city hall or major hotel--and use and advertise the services inside."

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