Laptops, tablets, smart phones ... as the number of wireless devices we have grows, so do the demands they place on the wireless networks we use. If you have wireless in your business, how's it coping?
Often, the answer is 'not that well'. In many companies, wireless access was first added on an ad-hoc basis, simply by purchasing a wireless access point (they can cost less than £25) and plugging it in. Wireless network created. Job done.
Although that approach was fine when wireless devices were a rarity, it takes more consideration to build a network that's you can rely on day in, day out.
"The balance is shifting towards wireless," explains Ian Kilpatrick, chairman of Wick Hill Group. "However, most companies just aren't ready for that shift. They have wireless hotspots which can't reach everywhere; or worse still, have implemented wireless networks which can't be easily upscaled."
“Wireless is more cost-effective, more convenient, less disruptive, encourages productivity – and users want it,” he continues.
"That’s great, but who is thinking about the fact that each device makes an incremental load on the network and that each user will typically look to increment their usage? And that companies are going to want to put not just their web browsing and email onto wireless, but also their business critical applications and multi-media – and they’ll want it to work faultlessly."
In short: wireless is brilliantly convenient and fantastically popular. But that means people are going to want to use it more and more. Your company's wireless provision needs to be up to scratch, especially if your staff are relying on it to do their jobs.
Signs that your wireless network is starting to creak under the strain of extra traffic include slow access, dropped connections and poor signal coverage. If you're experiencing these, it's a good idea to review your wireless provision before it gets worse.
If possible, seek advice from your IT supplier. They can help you understand how to make the best use of your existing wireless equipment, and whether new access points or signal boosters can help you increase capacity.
The latest wireless equipment tends to be much better than that from a few years ago too. Access points have more range and are better equipped to handle interference, so you can often benefit from updating your equipment.
But for many businesses, the biggest change they must make is to stop regarding wireless as a useful extra, and start seeing it as a key tool for employees. Because there's a good chance the people using your Wi-Fi already view it as essential.
(Image of a cold wireless hotspot: woodleywonderworks on Flickr.)
Do you get to work somewhere like this? (Image: plindberg on Flickr.)
Looking back, some recent IT Donut blog posts sound a little doom laden. We've had mobile phone meltdown, password breaches and even questions about whether you can trust your own employees. It's not that we're paranoid (honest). We just like to think about how to cope in the worst case scenario.
Continuing in the same vein (sorry about that), if there's a serious problem with your business IT - or a disaster that affects your entire premises, like a fire or a flood - then your business continuity plan might encourage you to go and work from somewhere else.
Working from home can be a good option, but these days there are other possibilities too. Free Wi-Fi must surely be available in every town in the UK by now, so here are three ways to find a public place - like a cafe or bar - to work from:
Do you work from public spaces? How do you find your favourite spots?
Previous Friday Donut tips:
News came this week that much-mooted plans for wireless internet access on London’s Underground are going full steam ahead in time for the Olympics.
Passengers at over 80 Tube stations will be able to log on while moving through stations and waiting for their trains.
On the face of it, this is A Good Thing. For a start, long-suffering commuters will be pleased they can check the exact reason for the delay on their smart phone or even fire off a complaint to Boris Johnson while stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the platform.
You’ll also be able to email your client if you’re running late for an important meeting with them or grab a map of your destination while on the escalator instead of having to wait till you’re back on the surface. If the connection is good enough, making calls via voice over IP services like Skype could be possible.
On the downside, I’m predicting an increase in the number of accidents on escalators as people check their tweets rather than watching where they’re going. We could even see the odd person attempting to use their full-size laptop on the platform.
(If you think that sounds farfetched, my experience suggests otherwise: I once saw a man playing a game of online poker on his laptop while simultaneously negotiating the ticket barriers and escalators at Reading Station, so anything’s possible.)
But as faster internet connections seep into every area of our lives, do we need to start guarding those precious moments when we’re cut off? Should we treasure those increasingly rare minutes when we’re out of signal, offline and unlikely to be disturbed by a buzz in our pocket or someone else’s loud Nokia ringtone? (Watch the video up to the 1:20 mark to make it worthwhile.)
I’m honestly in two minds about this. On the one hand, wireless internet has transformed the way many of us work. Within the office it’s brought extra flexibility to how we conduct meetings and work with colleagues. In the wider world, it’s this technology that enables us to stop for a coffee and catch up on email or get online even when we’re travelling.
But the flipside is that it’s much harder for us to switch off. Queuing in Starbucks? You’re much more likely to check your email or review your tweets than just stopping to look around you.
On the train? Never mind sitting there quietly to collect your thoughts or getting stuck into reading a complex document. With wireless internet available on many UK services, you’re more likely to get distracted by Facebook or spend the time dealing with email overload.
Currently, losing internet access can be a frustrating experience. But we’re slowly but surely moving towards a world where you can stay connected everywhere.
So, once internet access has crept into every rural blackspot, once every plane has Wi-Fi and once underground trains pose no barrier to getting online (like in Tokyo), will we start to yearn for a place where we can be disconnected? Will the frustration of getting cut-off unexpectedly be replaced by the frustration of being always reachable?
Well, it’s maybe not that clear-cut. But we’re certainly going to have to learn more self-discipline and understand when unplugging ourselves is a good idea: whether it’s to focus on getting a task done or simply to find time and space to think.
But I’m not blind to technology’s faults. There are lots of things about IT that confound, confuse and frustrate – and for some reason, encountering them at work always seems to magnify any annoyance. Here are my top six:
1. The caps lock key. I have never come across a single legitimate use for this waste of space on your keyboard. UNLESS YOU’RE INTO SHOUTING AT PEOPLE (which is just rude) then I can’t see any reason for its continued existence. In fact, I urge other computer manufacturers to follow Google’s lead and ditch this pointless key.
2. Tangled cables. You may well have a wireless keyboard and mouse, but I bet there’s a mass of cable spaghetti beneath your desk. It’s a nightmare working out which wire does what, and trying to untangle everything only makes it worse. In an era where we can build the Large Hadron Collider, is a totally wireless computer too much to ask?
3. Stupid error messages. A single error message that doesn’t make sense can really ruin your day – especially if you have work piling up and deadlines approaching. I don’t have time to deal with stuff like this:
(Yes, that’s an actual error that pops up on my computer now and again. No, I have no idea what it really means.)
4. Software licence agreements. We’d be better off without them because, quite frankly, nobody ever bothers reading them. Yes, I know there are lots of legal reasons you have to accept a licence agreement before you start using a piece of software, but in practice, no normal person is ever going to read 50 pages of legalese. If we have to have them, they should be much shorter and written in normal English.
5. Passwords. Every time I have to think up a password for a website, it feels like passwords are fundamentally broken. Passwords you can remember are easy for hackers to guess, but passwords that are secure are impossible to remember. Go figure. Shouldn’t we all be using fingerprint readers or something by now?
6. Non-standard chargers and power supplies. Why does every piece of IT have its own charger or power adaptor? I have a box somewhere containing all the plugs I’ve accumulated over the years. What a waste. If we can’t go wireless, at least give us a standard connection for everything. (Douglas Adams was on the money about this, years ago.)
It’s fair to say that compiling this list wasn’t difficult. I also considered including mobile phones with a battery life you can measure in hours, computer printers for never working quite as you expect them to, and the entire internet, just for being one enormous distraction when you’re trying to work.
Which bits of IT really get your goat? Head over to our forum to add to the discussion.