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Home Office on the Range

By Jim Bray

The home office may be under attack, thanks to the wireless revolution. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Over the past decade or so, the growth of personal computers, fax machines, e-mail, the Internet – and couriers – has turned the home office into an extremely popular "workstyle." Some people embraced the home office through necessity: after being "corporately downsized" many founded their own home-based companies. Others just liked the idea of being able to work in their jammies.

All that was required for success at home, besides the technological tools and healthy dose of self discipline, was the connection to the world provided by the telephone and/or cable lines that come to your home.

But now, those wires are being cut, and the home office shows signs of becoming the "virtual office."

Open Invitation…

Thanks to recent advances in wireless communication, a virtual office isn’t bound by any walls – or indeed by any one location. It can be in your car, on the deck in your back yard, at the beach, in a hotel, or anywhere else.

The concept isn’t really new, of course. Portable computers have been around for years, though now they’re smaller and more powerful than ever. Cellular phones aren’t new, either, nor are cellular modems for laptop computers. But the technological revolution that’s changing the face of wireless communications is making the virtual office more practical, affordable, and therefore more attractive, than ever.

Digital PCS services are providing a lot of impetus to the virtual office. Not only do they offer much clearer voice quality than earlier generations of wireless phones, but that clarity also translates into better data transmission.

And the longer life offered by new generations of batteries doesn’t hurt, either!

The PCS is really the focal point of the virtual office. With these dandy little cellphones you can send and retrieve data through the airwaves, using the phone’s keypad much as you would a computer keyboard – and when coupled with the cellular modem, it allows your notebook computer to be as connected to the whole wide world as your home or office computer.

A Recipe for Success…

Take today’s enhanced telephone services (like paging and call forwarding), blend them with the range of features offered by digital PCS (like better security and access to the information cornucopia known as the Internet), stir vigorously, and you’ve created a powerful, multi-media communications centre. Not only that, but this info-juggernaut is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, yet powerful enough to let you make phone calls, check remote fax machines, retrieve e-mail, and even surf the World Wide Web.

And this is only the beginning. As data transmission speeds and capacity increases, the sky is literally the limit.

Imagine being able to videoconference via your PCS. It’s coming – soon. So’s the capability for "E-commerce" and even digital photography over your PCS.

These innovations require new generations of handsets, units that’ll be far more than just telephones, but they’re already in the works and will be on the streets almost before you know it.

Control Freak…

Naturally, not everyone wants to be walking down the street, staring into their PCS handset as they videoconference with someone around the world. After all, it hurts when you walk into a traffic light pole! The point is freedom of choice, and control: for those who need, or want, the power and flexibility that’s coming with the new generations of digital phones, it’ll be there. You’ll have the freedom to do business – or just yak – anywhere, at any time.

And don’t forget, just because you have the capability of doing business while at junior’s hockey game doesn’t mean you have to: you’ll still be able to turn off the handset when you want a different kind of freedom.

The other side of the coin is that you can get work done on vacation, after the kids are in bed and you’re relaxing in front of the TV. And because you’re "connected" to the wireless world, you won’t have to worry about finding – or hotwiring – a phone jack: you can just kick back, boot up, dial up, and be as productive as you choose to be.

There’s more. New features being looked at by service providers include "incoming call management" using distinctive ringing tones on the handset. For example, you’ll be able to set the unit to emit three short rings if there’s a problem at headquarters, or home, that needs your immediate attention, while the rest of your calls go to your voicemail. So you can dine in peace, secure in the knowledge that if there’s a real emergency, you’ll know about it.

Or how about a multi-ring call forwarding feature that lets you dial one number, but which transfers the call to subsequent numbers until you actually connect with the person you’re trying to reach?

Even more mainstream features like caller identification, text messaging, and e-mail, let you maintain control by letting you take the calls that are important, while sending the rest to electronic purgatory until you’re ready to respond.

The Nut Behind the Wheel….

All of these lovely features, existing and future, are merely tools designed to enhance your life – not control it. The bottom line, as always, lies with the people who actually use the technology – the consumer. The workaholic who lets the cellphone ring during the symphony isn’t going away – but at least his or her phone will be able to just print out a line of text, or vibrate gently, rather than jangle the nerves of everyone in the audience.

So while the virtual office means the workplace is all around us, it also means we’re in control of how and when we go to work. And for those who want those capabilities, that’s good.

Who knows? Perhaps the new generations of digital communications technologies may even help make our roads safer, as people learn they don’t need to drive one-handed every time the phone rings!


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January 31, 2006