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Businesses getting into Wi-Fi act

More than half of U.S. businesses have signed onto Wi-Fi, and its use is quickly climbing, according to a report from Jupiter Research.

The reach of wireless networks is extending beyond the consumer market as a majority of businesses have already set up networks or plan to do so in the next 12 months, according to a report from research firm Jupiter Research.

The New York-based firm said in a release Monday that 57 percent of U.S. companies use Wi-Fi networks and an additional 22 percent are planning to use them in the next 12 months. Wi-Fi refers to wireless networking technology based on the 802.11b, 802.11a and--by midyear--the 802.11g standards, which allow people to access a network wirelessly and share resources on that network. The report is the firm's first on the Wi-Fi business market.

Setting up wireless networks removes the hassle of stringing cables and makes it easier to access data on a network. Security concerns and the relative youth of the market have limited the technology's use by businesses, according to Jupiter analyst Julie Ask. However, as prices for Wi-Fi gear fall and as networking companies and industry groups improve security measures, its appeal among the pin-striped-suit set grows.

Industry groups are also in the process of finalizing the 802.11i standard, which is expected to improve security on wireless networks.

Ask said the number of mobile employees is a significant factor in adoption of the technology. "About 50 percent of employees on average are mobile," she said, and this is increasing.

Ask added that some companies were in a holding pattern over Wi-Fi as they awaited the certification of the 802.11g standard.

Businesses with less than $10 million in annual revenue are leading the charge with 83 percent either using or planning to use Wi-Fi networks in the next 12 months, according to Jupiter. Companies with $100 million or more in revenue are slightly behind with 71 percent.

The market had been predominately made up of the consumer and small office/home office markets, according to Jupiter.

Hot spot locations are expected to multiply, which could help drive use among businesses as traveling executives look to access corporate data.

Hot spots are areas where wireless Internet access is available to the public using Wi-Fi technology. Such access points have proved enormously popular among laptop users, who discovered that they could tap into pockets of free high-speed Internet bandwidth, courtesy of unwitting corporations and cooperative neighbors. More recently, operators have begun to build networks of hot spots, so they can charge people for more-reliable and more broadly available service.

On Monday, Verizon Wireless said it will work with Wayport to offer Wi-Fi services at indoor locations such as airports and hotels starting in the third quarter.

T-Mobile USA, Cometa Networks and Toshiba, are also working to set up hot spot access in public places. Last week, Intel said it's teaming with Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Borders Group and McDonald's to offer wireless access to customers in certain areas.