At Comdex in November 2002, wireless local area networks (Lans) were pitched as the next big thing in the enterprise, as a way of increasing productivity by linking employees' laptops and PDAs to a Lan using high-frequency radio waves.
But by the start of 2003, obstacles still held back the widespread adoption of wireless Lans. There was confusion over which Wi-Fi (or 802.11) standards to adopt.
The first mobile PCs with wireless technology generally only supported 802.11b, the 11Mbps version of Wi-Fi. As the year rolled on so did the debate, with some developers also focusing on 802.11g, a standard with the same high speed of 802.11a, but with backwards compatibility to 802.11b. .
Richard Dineen, research director at analyst house Ovum, warned that due to these mixed messages the market would not understand the advantages of the different wireless standards until 2004 at the earliest.
High prices charged for Wi-Fi in cafes, hotels and airports also slowed adoption, as did security fears.
But in February, BT launched Open Zone and increased its UK hotspots to 120. This was followed by a number of big enterprises signing up to the service, including the BBC, Scottish Enterprise, Royal & Sun Alliance and John Lewis.
Then there was security, although fears began to ease in April after the Wi-Fi Alliance said that it would develop a new Wi-Fi security standard to replace the increasingly dicredited Wired Equivalent Privacy, which included AES encryption and better authentication and identity management.
But despite the obstacles, some industries saw its attraction. The property community got behind Wi-Fi with Laing O'Rourke announcing plans to provide Wi-Fi to workers, and then leave the hotspots in housing developments and offices afterwards.
However, a September report stated that half of UK IT managers were still unconvinced about wireless Lans.
Only seven per cent of those interviewed said they had rolled out wireless Lan technology in a significant way, and 48 per cent said they were not clear about its benefits. Security remained a concern for 38 per cent, and budgetary constraints (32 per cent).
GNER said in December that it would trial wireless hotspots on its trains, which some commuters warmed to.
But how will the cards fall for wireless in 2004? According to analyst firm Datamonitor the global enterprise wireless Lan market is expected to be worth more than $1.3bn by 2006, double its 2002 value.
Healthcare and education are likely to witness the most significant uptake, with hospitals equipping doctors with wireless Lan devices to improve patient care.
With the NHS committing millions to improving IT in the health sector, maybe 2004 will be a promising year for wireless.
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