V3 Enterprise Mobility Summit: The world of the workplace has been undergoing changes over recent years, as the traditional desk-based 9-to-5 has started to give way to more flexible ways of getting the job done.
This in turn calls for changes in the corporate IT required to support employees, and Intel is moving to address this with the Core vPro platform for business systems.
Offices have not gone away, but the way we use them has started to change, according to Intel. Rather than sitting at the same desk all the time, more workers are moving around from place to place, the office becoming a temporary space for meetings and collaboration rather than the sole location where work happens.
Supporting this freer model of working means giving employees tools and technology to enable them to move around as necessary and which can operate seamlessly with other IT infrastructure.
Intel's answer to all this centres on ditching cables, specifically the cables that make it such a pain to use a laptop or tablet with desk-bound peripherals and infrastructure such as projectors and big screens in meeting rooms.
This vision is being addressed in the latest version of Core vPro, Intel's business-focused platform for end-user PC devices. This is based on Core processors combined with specific chipset and wireless adapter hardware that implements additional management and security technologies aimed at organisations.
However, the 5th Generation Core vPro, introduced at the end of January, is just the first step towards enabling a completely cable-free experience for laptop, two-in-one and tablet users.
It introduces new features to support wireless docking for when staff return to the office workspace, and wireless display capabilities to let one or more people drive a projector or big screen without needing to connect a physical cable.
The roadmap for a future generation of Core vPro includes wireless charging, which Intel expects will allow a worker to charge the batteries in a mobile device simply by placing it on the desk rather than having to plug in a power brick.
The wireless docking is perhaps the most straightforward of the cable-free technologies Intel is introducing. It is based on the IEEE 802.11ad standard developed by the Wireless Gigabit Alliance, otherwise known as WiGig, which is implemented in the wireless adapter of the Core vPro platform alongside the existing WiFi and Bluetooth support.
One vendor already supporting this is HP with the Elite x2 1011 laptop/tablet hybrid and optional cube-shaped WiGig Wireless Dock accessory (pictured).
WiGig provides a 7Gbps link over distances of a few metres, and the specifications include ready-defined protocols to extend common PC interfaces such as USB, HDMI and DisplayPort and even the PCI Express bus so that devices connected wirelessly over a WiGig connection operate seamlessly using existing drivers.
As well as building WiGig into the chipset inside the laptop or tablet, Intel has developed the guts to drive the wireless dock, in the shape of the Wireless Gigabit Sink W13100.
This makes it easy for vendors to produce a wireless dock, but also means that each dock should work with any Core vPro system, regardless of which vendor produces them.
Intel's vision for wireless docking is that it will happen seamlessly as soon as a worker comes within range of the dock with their laptop, so that by the time they are seated at the desk the laptop will already have switched to using the dock's Ethernet connection and any desktop monitors connected to it (up to two are supported).
In practice, this kind of automatic handover is likely to work only if a dock is dedicated to a single user. In a hot-desk situation, where a dock may be shared by several staff, connections may have to be initiated by the user.
Meanwhile, Intel's wireless display technology, or Intel Pro WiDi, uses a familiar WiFi connection to beam the computer's display to a projector or big screen display with an appropriate receiver.
This sounds similar to the existing Miracast or WiDi technologies for consumers, but Pro WiDi has features built in to support meeting room situations with multiple users, plus security safeguards.
The latter includes features such as a confirmation screen that is displayed when a connection is established. This is implemented in case the user has inadvertently connected to a display in an adjacent meeting room and may have sensitive content on their screen.
In addition, an icon on the Windows taskbar lights up when you are transmitting your screen, a move designed to make it less likely that people will inadvertently leave their desktop still beaming to the big screen after their meeting has finished.
Pro WiDi enables the employee initiating a presentation to control the screen in an exclusive mode, or to allow others to take over the session. Intel said that it is also working to deliver a better quality of service for presentations by ensuring support at the driver level to synchronise the audio and video streams.
Pro WiDi uses a peer-to-peer WiFi link to make a connection, but the laptop can simultaneously be connected to a WiFi access point for the usual network functions, according to Intel.
All these capabilities are provided via an Intel Pro WiDi application that is enabled if running on an Intel vPro system and connected to an Intel Pro WiDi-certified receiver.
The application is designed to make it easy to connect with an enabled receiver, without having to waste time finding the right video cables and configuring the projector or screen to the correct image resolution.
Intel has been working with display and peripherals vendors to add support for Pro WiDi into their products. Initially, this means that staff will have to rely on adapters such as the ScreenBeam Pro from Actiontec, which plugs into an HDMI input on the screen or projector, but Panasonic said that support will be integrated directly into future business projector hardware.
Wireless docking and wireless presentations eliminate much of the cabling needed to connect things to laptops and tablets, but the elephant in the room is the need to plug into a mains adapter to power the device and charge its batteries.
Intel is working to address this with support for wireless charging. This is sadly not a part of the current 5th Generation Core vPro specifications, but will be implemented in a future generation, Intel said.
Wireless charging is not a radically new technology, but in many consumer products it relies on very close proximity. In practice, this means that devices such as smartphones end up having to sit directly on top of a charging cradle.
Intel's vision for wireless charging is that organisations will be able to fit wireless charging mats onto the underside of desks in the office, enabling a laptop or tablet to charge while the worker is sitting at a desk using it.
The firm is basing this on the Rezence standard developed by the Alliance for Wireless Power, which can transfer up to 50W of power over distances of several centimetres.
As well as requiring the workplace to be fitted with charging mats, this will require compatible laptops and tablets that have a built-in inductive resonance loop to feed charge to the battery.
Rezence also uses a Bluetooth Low Energy link to enable smart charging, whereby the computer can talk to the charger and control the power level being delivered.
Intel's vision of a wire-free future may take some time to be realised, as organisations will need to replace their existing mobile fleet to acquire compatible Core vPro devices and will also have to invest in new infrastructure.
However, it will certainly be welcomed by many employees and, if Intel's predictions about the productivity gains from enabling greater staff mobility prove true, the entire organisation will benefit.
For more information on enterprsie mobility register for the V3 Enterprise Mobility Summit.
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