802.11 Hotspots Just the Start - More Wireless Management Scenarios on the Horizon: Page 2
Choice of Net Will Depend on the App
"For most companies, 802.11 provides adequate wireless [capabilities] for now," Bajarin theorizes. Ultimately, though, an enterprise's choice of wireless networks will depend on the needs of its applications, according to the mobile/wireless analyst.
Schlumberger and Sears are two companies that are already finding this out. Schlumberger's on-the-road salespeople are able to use Sprint's essentially ubiquitous cellular network, thereby avoiding the need to hunt down an 802.11 hotspot situated somewhere nearby.
Why? Schlumberger's app is designed with small network bandwidth in mind. "Sprint's network is just fine for the CRM data the salespeople are sending," maintains Schlumberger's Tombari.
On the other hand, as a security precaution, Schlumberger is confining the PDA-based app to use within U.S. borders.
Sears – Three Shades of Wireless in a Mobile Van
Giant international retailer Sears, on the other hand, is taking a hybrid approach to wireless. Sears home appliance repair specialists now drive mobile vans equipped with private Wi-Fi hotspots, together with both WWAN and satellite-based wireless technologies.
On the business side, Sears' goal with the implementation is "to take our customers to the point where they want to go out and promote repair services in the backyard to their neighbors," said David Sankey, director of process and technology development for Sears Product Repair Services, during a conference session at DCI's recent CRM show in New York City.
Sears' current implementation has been many years in the making. In 1991, Sears started using the 800 MHz ARDIS wireless network for data communications with its remote technicians. Back then, Sears created Handheld Terminal (HHT), a mobile app designed for use on IBM PC Radio systems hooked up to ARDIS. Sears kept using HHT even after ARDIS was acquired by American Mobile. In 1999, though, the retailer began to augment ARDIS with a link to Norcom Network Corp.'s satellite systems.
Last year, Sears began testing a revamped app, known as the Sears Small Toolbox (SST). In SST, the technicians' mobile VANs are equipped with 802.11 hubs, as well as antennae enabled for both American Mobile and the satellite link. Full rollout to Sears' 13,000 repair people started earlier this year.
On a day-to-day basis, technicians now use American Mobile for uploading and downloading information about schedule changes and repair parts, for example. By accessing the corporate VPN over Wi-Fi, they're able to find out if a needed refrigerator part is available directly from their laptops, without leaving the customer's home. Otherwise, a technician would either have to step outside to the truck, place a cell phone call from inside the house, or even worse, "ask to use the customer's phone," Sankey said.
The technicians also use the system's GPS capabilities to plan the best routes for getting to customers' homes.
The more costly satellite link comes into play "only when necessary" — mainly when trucks move out of American Mobile's coverage range, according to Sankey. "You need to be sensible" with respect to the costs versus the benefits, he recommended.
The SST app runs on ruggedized custom laptops from Itronix, outfitted with touch screens. Wireless Matrix provides the van antennae, as well as outsourced remote monitoring and asset management for Sears. Wireless Matrix, by the way, purchased Norcom in 2001.
Public Hotspots Learn to Fly
Mobile vans aren't the only mode of transportation now playing host to Wi-Fi hotspots. Lufthansa Airlines, for one, will soon launch hotspot services on airplane flights. Lufthansa is installing Boeing's Connexion mobile information service on 80 of its aircraft, officials said, during a recent knowledge management conference sponsored by Basex.
Meanwhile, Wi-Fi start-ups like Cometa and Waveport are dotting the firmament with hotspots in brick-and-mortar establishments such as hotels, fast food joints, and Starbuck's cafes.