Study: Wi-Fi makes workers happier, more productive

Wireless LANs have been one bright spot in the IT spending outlook duringin the last year. Companies are actually deploying the technology, not just talking about it. But who in those organizations is actually using these networks? Why are they being deployed, and how are they achieving ROI?

Joshua Weiss, a project manager with Natick, Mass.-based Sage Research Inc., recently surveyed 159 companies with 100 or more employees that either had a wireless LAN, or planned to install one by the end of 2004. SearchMobileComputing.com caught up with him to learn more about what he discovered.

What are the main impediments to adoption? Security is the top concern. It is the top issue in the minds of network administrators, even as they are increasing the size of their networks. They are seeking ways to fortify their Wi-Fi network even as it is being deployed, but it has slowed deployment. There is also some dissatisfaction with the range of access points. It is a challenge to design appropriate networks. Steel beam construction...

may block the signal; even densely packed inventory in warehouses may create dead zones. It is definitely a challenge to design efficient networks. How do you expect Wi-Fi deployments and usage to change in 2004? A large percentage of the companies we surveyed planned to increase the number of employees that have Wi-Fi access in 2004. On average, only about 10% of the work force has a device that can access the wireless LAN. I think wireless is starting to show its return in terms of productivity, and now it is being rolled out to more departments.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Browse our Topics on wireless LAN infrastructure.

Check out our 2004 outlook: Tablets, RFID to rise, Sun to set.

How do public hot spots fit into the Wi-Fi picture?
I did see an increase in the number of companies using hot spots today and those that said that they would use it at the end of 2004. There is an increase there in terms of how much these companies trust hot spot services, and trust their employees to use them safely. Did you look at the use or value of voice over Wi-Fi?
One out of three companies we surveyed is planning to look into voice-enabled Wi-Fi phones by the end of 2004. I'm sure it will be a smaller subset of those that will actually deploy the technology. What kinds of devices are companies using on their Wi-Fi networks?
It varies by industry. In retail, for example, a high percentage of devices there were bar-code scanners. There were a lot of employees in the warehouses taking inventory and receiving shipments with bar-code scanners. That is at the heart of the productivity gains. The technology is affecting their core operations and probably providing a competitive advantage. For most other businesses, laptops were the most common devices. According to your research, the average spending on access points in 2004, for each vertical, will be between $9,000 and $13,000. Couldn't that be considered a bit low?
Those figures represent the average spending on access points for 2004. It is tough to get good average figures. This is not a huge sampling, and there is a wide range of company sizes. But many of these companies also have their wireless networks in place, and they are simply using Wi-Fi to expand network access. Much of their budget is being spent on devices and wireless cards. What benefits have office workers found?
Employee productivity has improved. If someone is on a conference call in a meeting room, she can access the relevant server-based files [simultaneously]. If a client calls, questions can be answered on the fly. One benefit we did not expect to find is that it boosted employee satisfaction. When employees are given the liberty to remain accessible and complete their work regardless of where they are, they benefit. What kinds of companies are using wireless LANs today?
There is a wide variety of companies using Wi-Fi networks. We found three main verticals: health care, retail and manufacturing. But there is also a wide range of public and private sector organizations. In a general office environment, we found that it was common to put up access points in meetings areas, and also for employees to use hot spots when they were on the road. Why are the verticals interested in Wi-Fi?
In these three verticals -- health care, retail and manufacturing -- we found that employees need to move around the work area and still access and input data. Hospitals are a great example. Nurses and doctors can access data and update files at a patient's bedside. Employees can now have access to information regardless of where they are.

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