BT puts wireless office to the test

With the Futerspace project, the telecommunications giant has set up an experimental cable-free office where phone and computer signals are transmitted by radio waves

The paperless office remains a dream, but the wireless office may be available sooner. In a demonstration of the potential of cable-free communication technology, BT has brought together wireless computer and telecommunications hardware, installed it in some furniture and set up an office trial.

BT calls it Futurespace, the cable-free office where all phone and computer services, including e-mail and the internet, are delivered to the desktop by radio from an unobtrusive wall-mounted aerial unit. There are no wires and no cables. There aren’t even any mains electricity sockets – equipment is powered by batteries charged by solar cells which take their energy from the office lighting.

Futurespace is being tested at BT’s offices in Edinburgh where eight volunteers have personal, cordless, mobile pedestals each containing a computer and a digital cordless phone.

Keyboards and mice are cable-free and are connected to their processor by radio link. The computers connect to the main office network via a 2.4GHz radio Local Area Network ethernet using a small wall-mounted wireless receiver/transmitter.

Each pedestal contains two car batteries and an inverter to supply enough power to run the computer, phone, scanner and other peripherals for 15 hours, or about two days’ work. The pedestals have to be wheeled back to a mains socket at night to be recharged. But BT’s Adastral Park research laboratory in Ipswich is working on a solar cell to keep the batteries permanently charged using energy from office strip lighting.

BT researchers have also developed an all-in-one receiver/transmitter unit capable of sending computer network and mobile phone signals into an office from a single, small wall-mounted unit. Known as the `pico cell’ it incorporates a tiny solar cell that uses the light in the optical fibre cable itself to power the aerial unit.

Thus the only `wire’ in the cable-free office of the future is a thin optical fibre cable running out of the building to the company IT room – which can be up to 100km away.