Going mobile

Keeping at arm’s distance from your coworkers – and boss – seems to be catching on.

More than half of the 109 million households in the U.S. have a digital home office, according to a new report from the Yankee Group, a communications and networking research firm. This includes households with telecommuters, home-based businesses, or the employee who occasionally works from home. Europe and Asia are seeing similar trends.

In 2003, 56 million U.S. households had a digital home office, a 33 percent increase from 42 million in 2001, Yankee reports. The rise in broadband has boosted the ease of telecommuting, and this is reflected in buying patterns, as more IT hardware is bought for the small office/home office (SOHO) market.

Thirty percent of telecommuters and 26 percent of home-based businesses have laptop PCs – much higher than the U.S. household average of 17 percent. Similar figures show telecommuter households are more than twice as likely to buy wi-fi systems, PDAs, and fax machines.

Home networking may be the biggest growth area, according to Business Communications Company researcher Malika Rajan. She expects wireless and traditional LANs will generate 47 percent of SOHO-derived revenues through 2007.

Yankee analyst Michael Kelleher notes that the SOHO consumers are willing to buy products that keep them up to date while on the move. “Devices and services for productivity are at the heart of the digital home office opportunity,” Mr. Kelleher says.

He breaks SOHO buying patterns into three distinct ownership phases. In the first phase, the consumer buys a desktop personal computer and wireline telephone service. The second phase brings dial-up Internet, a mobile phone, printer, and accessories. Finally, the SOHO consumer will upgrade to home networking and buy broadband Internet access, and additional PCs or laptops, PDAs, and other productivity equipment.

“Most digital home offices are in the first and second stages,” Mr. Kelleher says. “The third stage presents the best opportunities for providers.”

For:Red Herring