Sidebar: 3G Wireless and Handhelds Extend Productivity

The build-out of Wi-Fi wireless LANs across corporate campuses has stoked the demand for laptops. Now, emerging third-generation wireless services are extending the reach of laptops -- and making handheld devices and smart phones a more effective alternative for some uses.

High-speed wide-area wireless technologies such as Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) have expanded the usefulness of laptops on the road while enabling smaller devices to take on more functions. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is already experimenting. Its initial pilot involves laptops equipped with both Wi-Fi and EV-DO cards from Verizon Wireless. The units will access business applications via the company's Web portal. "We're beginning to move our applications, having them available for the sales force or medical management so that they're accessible in the field," says Jerry Polcari, director of IT.

Polcari is considering expanding the technology for use with the staff's BlackBerry devices. "It's conceivable that we could put a lightweight application on a BlackBerry, but we're not ready for that," Polcari says.

The law firm Sebaly Shillito & Dyer has equipped its laptops with EV-DO cards and given its staff Treo 600 smart phones to check e-mail, calendars and to-do lists.

"I do see [smart phones] replacing laptops to some degree. When I'm traveling, I don't have to bring the laptop as much," says Brian Clayton, manager of the information systems group.

That sentiment appears to be driving sales of handhelds. Research recently released by Gartner shows that sales increased to record levels this year. But can handheld devices really replace laptops?

Handhelds and smart phones are ultimately limited by their small screens. For example, documents attached to e-mails aren't easy to read, Clayton says. For most purposes, handhelds are likely to be used as an adjunct to a PC or laptop rather than as a replacement.

PCs and laptops will remain the hub of the digital universe for most people, says Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay. "You might be able to make do with a small constellation of devices, but that's a future evolution."

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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