Of Mice and Keyboards: The Case for Wireless Peripherals
by Christopher Elliott
reprinted with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Center

'Fess up. It took awhile for many of you to really believe how much more productive you could be with wireless networking, didn't it?

I'm here now to make a case for how wireless peripherals - that is, wireless mice, keyboards, printers, monitors, and so on - can also make your business more efficient, more productive, and, to boot, a more desirable place to work.

I'll start by asking if you or any of your employees have workstations cluttered with cables and cords? Wireless peripherals, instead of the wired version, can simplify and boost the appearance of your workspaces by getting rid of those meandering streams of wires contributing to the clutter.

Add to that the increased flexibility and unrestricted movement your workers will have. And to that, the ability to go mobile with more than just a laptop. And to that, the head start your business will be getting on the not-too-distant future, when wired devices and peripherals are outmoded.

"We've surveyed our clients and found that they become more productive when they're unwired," says Ralph Bard, manager of technical services for Willow Computing Technologies, a consulting and integration firm in Raleigh, N.C. "I believe it will become the norm in the future."

You don't need to wait for tomorrow. Here are five steps to take right now to make sure the devices and peripherals in your office are ready for the day when your employees count on having more than just a wireless network.

1. Run a wireless diagnostic on your business. That's the advice of Robert Stephens, the founder and "chief inspector" for The Geek Squad, a technical services company in Richfield, Minn. He recommends trying wireless peripherals such as a mouse or a headset on a limited basis and seeing how it affects your performance. "This will help you fit wireless into your company's operations," Stephens says. A diagnostic can also involve taking a hard look at the systems in your office and asking the question, "What would happen if we unplugged them?"

2. Get up to speed on the wireless offerings available today. Too often, when someone says "wireless," you think of a cellular phone or a wireless network. Think again. "Awareness of new technology is often a challenge for small-business owners," says Bryce Benson, a spokesman for ClearOne Communications, a Salt Lake City conferencing systems provider. "They typically don't have the resources to stay on top of the latest technology and the benefits such technology can provide." For example, ClearOne's wireless conferencing phones allow you to take a conversation into virtually any room in a building. There's almost no technology that doesn't come in a wireless flavor nowadays.

3. Pay special attention to Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth (www.bluetooth.org),  the dominant standard for wireless communications, is worth following closely, especially if you're investing in new technology. "For those small businesses who want to be on the cutting edge of wireless, Bluetooth is our top recommendation," says Carla Forester, product marketing manager for Microsoft Hardware. Microsoft's latest Bluetooth products allow employees to wirelessly sync a PDA or phone with the information on their PC, or transfer files, documents, and appointments from one device to another - all from up to 30 feet away, freeing them up from cables and clutter.

4. Beware of security risks.
"Businesses forget to factor in their security needs when they go wireless," says John Brandewie, marketing manager for Hewlett Packard's converged products. "It's not just a matter of cutting the cords. It's also a matter of evaluating how a company will be using the products and how it will use the information." Many newer Bluetooth-compatible mice and keyboards that work over a 27 MHz frequency also offer multiple identification codes to reduce the occurrence of cross-talk. Also, experts such Brandewie advise small businesses to change passwords frequently and to change the defaults on your peripherals to make them less vulnerable to harmful outside influences.

5. Upgrade peripherals with an eye toward wireless functionality. That's what Mark McClusky, associate editor for Mobile PC magazine in Brisbane, Calif., recommends. Whether your business is "adequately wireless" isn't something you can measure, he says. Instead, "it's a gut thing. Would I advise a business to run out and replace perfectly fine equipment just so they could get wireless versions? No, that seems silly to me. But as I had to replace equipment, I'd tend to get wireless versions of it."

Is your small business un-tethered enough? Take a close look at it, and go beyond the obvious wireless solutions out there, such as Wi-Fi. Pay attention to standards - and safety.

"If your wireless peripherals save you an extra trip to the office to link up to the company's network or if you can minimize your response time to an urgent matter while on the road, then your business is adequately wireless," says Sean Angus, marketing manager for USA Wireless in Van Nuys, Calif. "Look at wireless peripherals as a way to complement and improve the way you do business in today's fast-paced environment."

Another perk is that your office likely will look a lot better, sans wires. "A wireless environment is more attractive," says Lewis Lustman, marketing manager for Iogear, an Irvine, Calif., manufacturer of wireless connectivity products. "It's also marginally safer since there are fewer wires to trip over and accidentally pull out of the wall or a plug."

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