By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Pitney Bowes has hundreds of technicians in the field at customer sites managing their mailing systems. That led to massive communications problems, since technicians had to find phones — often nowhere near the equipment — and then rely on finding the right person at headquarters to get answers to any technical or other issues. "We used to spend a lot of time calling for information — basic information," recalls Ralph Nichols, Pitney Bowes' service program manager.
That's why Pitney Bowes implemented a wireless system for its 560 technicians in the Document Messaging technologies division, which places about two thirds of those technicians on site for large customers. (The rest go where needed to handle service calls.) The company is planning to deploy the system globally to about 6,000 employees, with the Global Mailing Systems' 2,300 employees next on the list.
The Pitney Bowes system uses the Mobitex paging network to transmit data to Research in Motion BlackBerries, using access software from Antenna Software that connects the technicians to Pitney Bowes' legacy systems. The system is actually Pitney Bowes' second version; it used Motorola terminals on the Motient network, but found that the coverage was spotty, especially inside buildings and that the data-access software could not reliably access corporate data. "Technicians didn't trust a lot of the information, so they'd call to confirm. What a waste of time," Nichols says.
One key issue for Pitney Bowes was keeping the devices and interfaces simple. "A lot of [proposed] technology was glitz, and our users just weren't interested — it didn't have any value to them," he notes. For example, Nichols says that technicians did not want the ability to look up diagrams and so forth from service manuals, which would have required a faster, pricier wireless network and more sophisticated device such as a notebook computer. "They just figured, 'We have to know what we're doing' when working on equipment, he notes. The technicians knew how to fix the equipment; what they needed from their wireless devices was easy access to customer and parts status information, as well as to filing status reports and confirming service orders.
While Nichols declines to say how much the new wireless system costs, he does say that the company reached break-even point within a year. The company expects its inventory costs to shrink at least 15% over present levels, and emergency orders to fall 90%, since technicians will have reliable access to parts inventory and since the inventory system will have to-the-minute data on technician orders. The company also expects to have 10% fewer callbacks of service technicians.Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE ESSENTIAL WIRELESS PRODUCT AND SERVICE GUIDE!
A subscriber exclusive! IT Wireless's Summer 2003 Essential Products Guide is now available to subscribers. The 19-page PDF file contains a listing of key vendors and service providers, with summaries of their offerings and contact information. Categories include wireless network and client hardware, network and client software, and IT services. Download the directory now!
JP Mobile has released SureWave Enterprise Server, which lets enterprises securely extend applications to their mobile workers on Palm, Pocket PC, Research in Motion, and Symbian handheld devices. It provides bidirectional synchronized access to Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino groupware, as well as permits the deployment of field applications needed by mobile workers.
Schlumberger's new InfiNet product lets utility companies deploy wireless technology to monitor energy usage in real time. InfiNet's automated meter reading system can send warnings to utility and public officials when, for example, energy usage rises to a predetermined point, so they can better manage the spike in usage.
Prentice Hall has a new book for those working on wireless security: How Secure is Your Wireless Network? Safeguarding Your Wi-Fi LAN by Lee Barken. Its sister imprint Addison-Wesley also has a new book for the same audience: Real 802.11 Security: Wi-Fi Protected Access and 802.11i by Jon Edney and William A. Arbaugh.
Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to email@example.com.
Commuters in and out of Silicon Valley will soon be able to access the Internet while they're commuting by rail using an 802.11b network on the trains and train tracks. The free three-month trial begins this month for riders of Altamont Commuter Express; eventual usage fees have yet to be determined. The rail line carries about 1,300 passengers a day on round trips between Stockton and San Jose, with most riding for at least an hour.
Market researcher BWCS says the worldwide market for such services will be $425 million by 2008, with 625 million people traveling in Wi-Fi–equipped trains. That shows how small the market is in terms of dollars for such services, an issue other public hot-spot providers will also face as coffee houses, fast-food restaurants, and others continue to offer Wi-Fi service. While such service can be a great boon to business travelers, its deployment as essentially an extra service could end up undermining its economic viability.
Ovum analyst Richard Dinen suggests that such services, already offered at thin margins, will be under pressure to be made available as free add-ons to attract more users more often in hopes of them buying an extra coffee, for example, which carries a 100% markup. (Some locations, such as the downtown in Long Beach, Calif., already have free Wi-Fi service, offered to draw shoppers.) That pressure to offer free Wi-Fi service in turn could reduce the viability of such Wi-Fi services for business and other travelers, unless Wi-Fi users in fact do spend more at their hot-spot locales, making the deployment worthwhile for the vendors and service providers. In the U.K., Dinen notes, there are several competing national coffee house chains, so he expects one to offer free Wi-Fi as a competitive move. In the U.S., Starbucks has no strong national competitor, so it doesn't have to worry about underpricing other cafés' Wi-Fi services to retain travelers — but it may soon have to contend with competition from fast-food restaurants. Already, McDonald's has trials in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco offering Wi-Fi service at prices cheaper than at Starbucks. If successful in selling more hamburgers or salads by attracting wireless users, it's not hard to see such a national chain move to free Wi-Fi service.
The jury's still out as to whether offering Wi-Fi service is a net plus for such fast-food purveyors. If not, they may opt to discontinue service rather than move to a higher-priced strategy that could cause a user backlash.
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