Hot-spot use to heat up in 2004

Market researcher Gartner predicts a surge in hot-spot use. The trick for businesses will be to manage the costs and keep things secure.

The number of people who use Wi-Fi hot spots globally is likely to triple this year, and businesses had best be prepared, market research firm Gartner predicted Wednesday.

By the end of the year, Gartner said, hot-spot users are poised to rise to 30 million, up from 9.3 million last year, and more than half of notebook PCs used by businesses will have Wi-Fi capabilities.

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Gartner said the surging demand for wireless access will force businesses to supplement their existing networks with wireless nets, to be wary of keeping costs under control, and to make sure that security is tight.

There should be benefits along with the costs, the research firm added. Mobile workers will gain an average of 30 minutes a day in productivity by using wireless LANs (local access networks) in offices, homes and hot-spot locations, Gartner said.

Hot spots are areas set up to provide mobile devices with wireless network access. Much attention in the last year has gone to public hot spots in a wide array of locales, from airport lounges to coffee shops and fast-food restaurants. Because Wi-Fi providers charge for access, .

As the market shakes out, companies should avoid long-term contracts with service providers as well as subscription contracts with providers that cannot supply roaming agreements, Gartner said.

"Companies need to examine managed service providers and include local exchange carriers and cable service operators," Phil Redman, research vice president at Gartner, said in a statement. "Mobile network operators must cultivate business models that are aimed at how mobile professionals buy and use wireless services. While opportunity is present, success and profitability are still not assured."

On the security side, companies should be sure that their hot-spot strategies include the use of a personal firewall and virtual private network login for all remote access.

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