Sales of Wi-Fi-enabled devices have increased 64% this year and will exceed 120 million units before the year is out, according to research firm In-Stat. But analysts said many organisations are still wary of the technology.
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Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology covering the various 802.11 wireless local area network standards, which use radio frequency to transfer data.
A study by In-Stat on behalf of industry group the Wi-Fi Alliance said 2,200 products have been given Wi-Fi accreditation since 2000.
In-Stat senior analyst Gemma Tedesco said, "This is a significant milestone for such a young technology." With demand for laptops equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity growing fast, analysts expect that almost all mobile PCs will be bundled with the technology in about a year.
Analyst firm Gartner predicted that by the end of this year half of all laptop PCs in use will have Wi-Fi capabilities either built in or added using PC cards.
The Docklands area of London around Canary Wharf recently became Europe's biggest Wi-Fi-enabled area. Employees and visitors have access to a public Wi-Fi network from parks, shops, restaurants and offices.
Fast food chain McDonald's is to implement a mobile inspection system for its restaurants around the world. It will allow inspectors to transmit data by GPRS or Wi-Fi to head office systems.
Microsoft plans to build an enterprise wireless network, serving 25,000 simultaneous users in 277 buildings across 60 countries using Wi-Fi phones.
Yet despite these high-profile Wi-Fi projects, many organisations still have reservations about implementing the technology and allowing staff to use it.
Gartner research vice-president Delia MacMillan said, "Many firms forbid staff from using hotspots, not only because of data security concerns, but also because they have no way of managing the cost of employees using hotspots."
But she added, "As more PCs come with built-in Wi-Fi antennas, many workers are likely to try the technology at home. This will mean they need to be educated about acceptable corporate usage."
Barriers for business travellers
A Gartner survey of more than 2,000 business travellers in the UK and US this summer found that they used Wi-Fi hotspots relatively little and that barriers to more extensive use remained.
Gartner research vice-president Delia MacMillan said users remain uncertain about what equipment they need, how they can connect and what they will be charged.
"This may change as mobile devices with built-in Wi-Fi radio antennas become more common, but hotspot providers still have to encourage usage by ensuring adequate coverage and making it simpler to pay for," she said.