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Commentary: Wireless will become a PC necessity

PC makers such as IBM and Dell Computer just recently started to integrate wireless technology into PCs, a feature Apple Computer has offered for a year now.

By Michael McGuire, Gartner Analyst

PC makers such as IBM and Dell Computer just recently started to integrate wireless technology into PCs, a feature Apple Computer has offered for a year now.

See news story:
IBM, Dell trail Apple in wireless laptop push

Computer makers are moving in this direction because they recognize their customers want more than just the latest hardware: They want complete systems that offer everything. Wireless local area network (LAN) technology offers one way to provide the whole package and enables computer makers to differentiate themselves.

Businesses, as well as school systems and universities, welcome this approach from computer makers because they find it increasingly difficult to implement new technologies themselves.

Wireless LAN appeals to businesses that want to expand their capacity to support workers with PCs--without the expense of pulling cable within the office. Wireless LAN connections also offer more flexibility because they accommodate workers who regularly move around a building or campus--those who attend a lot of meetings--or who come in and work for a day or two, then leave. This technology will help businesses to support working in an always-on, always-connected mode, which will boost the overall productivity of the work force.

Nevertheless, PC makers face several challenges before PCs connected to wireless LANs become mainstream. Most importantly, wireless LANs present particular security problems. The whole system has to be secured end-to-end. Data must be stored securely on the PC; the connection to the wireless LAN and the data transmission must be secured; and the wireless LAN's connection to the wired network must be secured.

Other challenges pertain to connections and power management. Computer makers must perfect the technology that allows people to move from access node to access node on the network without losing the connection and having to log back on. People also must be able to walk in and out of the range of wireless LANs without losing connection. Finally, there is the issue of wireless LANs drawing extra power from PC batteries.

Because this technology is new, no computer maker has established itself yet as a leader. Being first to market has not translated into market leadership for Apple. Gartner believes that wireless LANs will become a check-off item. That is, it will not drive anyone to select one company's PC over another's. However, all vendors will have to offer the technology, either on their own or through partnerships.

(For related commentary on a real wireless, thin-client campus, see registration required.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2000 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.