With Wi-Fi shaping up as the next must-have technology for business people out of the office, experts are warning that companies must get their wireless policies and security straight - or face the consequences.
Analyst house Gartner predicts that the number of hot spot users will rise to 30 million worldwide this year, up from 9.3 million users in 2003. With hot spots rolling out in business friendly locations such as train stations, hotels and even on planes, corporate users look set to play no small part in that growth. Gartner recommends that companies should put Wi-Fi security in place before the WLAN boom begins, advocating a firewall and secure VPN login for remote access as a key pillar of any strategy.
But it's not just the security issues surrounding Wi-Fi that could damage a business - it's cheeky employees exploiting Wi-Fi costs when they submit their expenses.
Given that by the close of 2004, half of all business-orientated notebooks will be Wi-Fi enabled, according to Gartner, getting a service provider onboard is vital in stopping out-of-office access costs spiralling out of control.
Gartner research VP Ian Keene advises caution when selecting your service provider until the Wi-Fi market has reached maturity. "Companies need to have a strategy in place to track their usage - who's using what and when. Often, they don't track their usage patterns and costs get put in through normal expenses. The last thing businesses should do is go crazy and give everyone a long term contract - you could look back in a year and find you've signed up with the wrong people."
Even for those who don't fancy unwiring their workforce, there's no escape from the strategy making. "Even if you're going all out to prohibit wireless LAN use, you can't sit back and do nothing. If you want to make sure that there are no unauthorised, insecure WLANs in the enterprise, you need to have the necessary systems to sniff them out," Keene told silicon.com.
But it's not all bad news and worry for those opting to go down the Wi-Fi route. There's a lot to be gained for the unwired exec - Gartner predicts that the wireless worker can gain up to half an hour a day in productivity by using WLAN hotspots, by getting access to information and a real-time business environment.
Wi-Fi take-up got another boost today with news that British Airways is rolling out the technology in its airport lounges.
High-speed wireless connectivity will be available at 80 BA executive lounges at airports across the world, after the airline signed a deal with BT Openzone. Many UK airport lounges will get a Wi-Fi hot spot as part of this deal, including Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Belfast - as well as Heathrow and Gatwick, which both already contain an Openzone network. Other locations include airports in continental Europe, the US, Africa and India.
ZDNet UK's Graeme Wearden contributed to this report