Technology changing face of business

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001

The way we do business changes each year as technology continues to take giant leaps forward in terms of capability and affordability.

For instance, advances in just the past year on the Kenai Peninsula are allowing business owners to access and provide information faster and better than ever before.

"It's explosive right now," said Dan Apted of CustomCPU, a computer and technology company in Anchorage and Soldotna. "If I had a million dollars right now, I could spend it (implementing technology) and be right back out begging for more."

One of the biggest advances of the moment has been high-speed Internet connections

One year ago, Internet connections available to the small businesses and homes on the peninsula maxed out at a transfer rate of 56 kilobytes a second -- through the standard 56k modem that comes with most personal computers. Since late last summer,

Internet service can whip along at

speeds six to 10 times faster, thanks to DSL, or digital subscriber line, technology, brought to parts of the central peninsula by Alaska Communication Systems.

But for rural portions of the Kenai Peninsula, high-speed Internet may not come in the form of copper wires hung from a phone pole. Apted is working on a project to bring wireless high speed connections to homes too far away to be served by DSL or even cable TV modems. Through a series of microwave antenna and radios operating in the gigahertz (billions of cycles per second) band, subscribers would be able to connect at speeds of 300 kilobytes to 1.2 megabytes per second, or from six to 21 times as fast as an analog modem. A lot farther down the road is fiber-optic connections into individual businesses. Currently, Apted said, the speed limit is 400 megabytes per second.

"Theoretically, the limit is 1 terrabyte per second," he said.

That's 1,000 gigabytes, or 18 million times faster than the modem on your computer.

"At that rate, you could take the entire Library of Congress and transmit it all in seven minutes," Apted said. "That's the magic bullet. The top of the pyramid, but nobody can do it right now because of the cost."

So don't expect that kind of speed on the peninsula any time soon. High-speed cable modems, just about as fast as DSL, have been promised on the peninsula for almost two years, but technical glitches have kept them away. When cable modems do come, they will be available to everyone with cable TV, though you don't have to go too far north or south of the Kenai-Soldotna area to be out of range of cable TV.

Internet on the go is now available to travelers at the Kenai Municipal Airport terminal. Windows-based computers that CustomCPU builds have dollar-changers and credit-card sliders attached to them, allowing a traveler to phone home the 21st century way, through e-mail.

"Right now, you have to make a phone call, and often it's to another time zone," he said. "E-mail has become the communications style of choice for people worldwide.

"People can send an e-mail saying they've arrived in Kenai and are going fishing."

The Internet is playing a bigger part in how business gets things done, according to Randy Daly, owner of HiSpeed Gear in Kenai, and it's not just e-mail.

"Just look at the number of ways you have to send a fax today. When they first came out, it was no big deal, some people had them but others got by without one," he said. "Now, you don't see an office without one."

Technology allows a business person to scan a piece of paper and then use it as a word processing document, in an e-mail, or send it as a fax via regular phone lines or over the Internet.

"Ways to do business continue to evolve," he said.

Storage devices with massive space on them continue to decrease in size and fall in price, Daly said. In the past, archived documents needed to be stored on microfilm in expensive vaults with elaborate fire suppression systems. Today, data can be "burned" onto a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM and stored off-site, or even stored online.

"There are companies now that that's all they do, is rent you huge blocks of storage," Daly said.

Daly, the new president of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, said the EDD is planning a forum in the fall to address technology and business.

"Alaska is a leader in (using) technology. If you look at the percentage of homes with computers, we lead the nation," he said. "There is very high demand for it."

In the future, Daly also sees "universal" phone numbers coming.

"It's the next big thing, but it's the least sexy," he said. "It doesn't sound earth-shattering, but think about it. You will have one phone number wherever you go, for home, work, travel.

"It will be totally seamless. No matter where you are on the planet, someone can reach you like they were calling next door."

Some new technology, like e-mail over digital cell phones, is here, but it's what Daly calls "gimmicks."

"If you've ever tried to type a message on a 10-key (phone pad), you realize how useless that technology is," he said. "If you have to strike the 3 key four times to get the letter F, how useful is that?"

He said voice recognition will solve that problem.

"Wouldn't it be better to be able to speak into your wrist watch and send the message as e-mail?" he said.

Daly also sees wireless networking as cutting costs in business. Already, Apple Computers has it's "AirPort" technology, as does Lucent Technology, which is the system HiSpeed Gear deals with.

"What wireless networking does, is you plug an antenna card in your computer and it talks wirelessly to the network hub," he said. "It's very easy to move workstations around without having to re-drop cables.

"And if you move (your office), your network moves with you."

Another aspect of biz-tech: plummeting prices. New technology always starts high, but as it matures -- say after six months to a year -- prices drop. Enough computing power to edit a Hollywood feature film can be bought right now for under $10,000. Just bear in mind, it will be obsolete in a year.

"You see the price of components go down because they are no longer as specialized as they used to be," Daly said. "Memory has come down because they can make it better and cheaper, same with hard drives and LCD panels, because they learned from the previous generations of the product."

In the office, multifunction machines that act as fax machines, telephones, printers and scanners were priced over $5,000 when they first appeared a handful of years ago, they're now available for less than $1,000.

"It's all about numbers. The challenge of new technology is to get it out there and accepted, then the law of large numbers makes the cost go down," Daly said. "The cost of the millionth unit is a fraction of the first."

Daly also predicts a day when business people can expect their computers to work as reliably as the telephone.

"Workstations will become as utilitarian as the modern telephone," he said. "Everyone will expect to be connected, just as everybody can be expected to have a phone that works. People will just expect this stuff to work."

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