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Wireless's Hidden Challenge: Power
While most wireless deployment discussions center around security issues and of course ROI, a key hidden issue for most enterprises is the short battery life for the client devices. Because wirelessly connected devices are typically mobile, they rely on batteries, and batteries have not advanced significantly in years in terms of power capacity. And it's pretty much a given that you can reduce a vendor's battery-life claims by at least half. And this issue compounded by the fact that "802.11 is very inefficient in how it manages power," says Ovum analyst Richard Dinen.
In IT Wireless interviews with various enterprises deploying wireless, the issue of battery life was particularly acute for those whose workers are highly mobile. And of those mobile industries, health-care IT managers raised the issue most strongly:
Generally speaking, there are two ways for enterprises to deal with battery-life issues. One is to have recharger units available in convenient locations for self-service recharge. These recharge racks typically are assembled by the IT department itself, since there seem to be no commercial products to charge multiple batteries simultaneously. The other way is to keep spare batteries available, with employees dropping off used ones for someone else to recharge.
UPS, for example, has set up battery racks in its package sorting facilities so workers can swamp out a dying battery for a freshly charged one (the old battery gets placed in a charger). These racks support dozens and sometimes hundreds of batteries. (Ovum analyst Dinen notes that some London subway stations now have such charger racks for cell-phone users.)
Because sorting staff at UPS tend to work five-hour shifts, they often can get through a shift with just one battery charge for the handheld scanners that the sorters carry. If not, sorters typically get a new battery in the few minutes time they have as they move from one truck or palette to another. FedEx's two– and three-hour sort shifts also fit within battery lifetimes. Still, warehouse-type operations such as FedEx and UPS must consider how to keep fresh batteries available for the various shifts, since workers usually share their handheld scanners, with each user logging in for his shift.
Deliverypeople can often circumvent the issue of battery life by having a recharger in their trucks or having a supply of batteries stored (such as for a PDA). And in more traditional white-collar environments, workers tend to dock their notebooks for part of the day, giving them a chance to recharge. In a worst case, an employee can plug in to a wall outlet.
Beyond the brute-force approaches of having charger stations and extra batteries, "there are some tweaks you can do [to the devices themselves]: Change the idle mode, for example, or use more efficient processors like the Intel Centrino," says Ovum analyst Dinen. But he notes that those are just incremental steps. Dinen hopes that a year-old initiative at the IEEE, the P165 working group, will help significantly extend laptop battery life, but such standards efforts take several years to accomplish their goals. In the meantime, mobile chargers and multi-unit charger stands may be the way to go.
Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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