Cellular Data Services' Promise

Businesses discover the benefits of sending data over cellular networks

David Ewalt, Contributor

January 9, 2004

3 Min Read

Sprint PCS also runs a CDMA network, and its PCS Vision data plans start at $40 a month. It doesn't offer an unlimited-access plan; a top-of-the-line plan is priced at $100.

On the other side of the fence are the GSM and GPRS networks operated by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Cingular. These networks run a little slower, averaging speeds of about 30 Kbps. In November, AT&T started rolling out its next generation Edge networks, which boast an average speed around 120 Kbps and a top speed of 200 Kbps. It's available in more than 6,500 cities and towns. AT&T's unlimited-access plan is $80 a month; T-Mobile's unlimited-data plan runs about $30; and Cingular's is $80.

By the end of this month, Genex plans to have 100 people using the wireless data service and by the end of 2004, more than 500. The efficiencies achieved through the technology are already helping pay for that aggressive rollout. "The pricing is more expensive than a cheap ISP, but the difference in dollars per month just isn't overwhelming," Darrell says.

The technology is catching on because cellular networks have improved to the point where they can offer users enough bandwidth, says Technology Business Research analyst Jay Slattery. They are "finally providing the capabilities that enable a business user to use [cellular] as their sole wide area connection," he says. Adoption of cellular data services is still in the early stages. "You'll probably see a lot of business users taking a trial approach to it this year," he says.

Roger Arciniega, VP of sales for Momentum Textiles, says cellular data is boosting his company's sales. The commercial fabric vendor uses Qualcomm CDMA cards to access the Sprint PCS wireless network.

Momentum sells textiles to furniture builders and companies constructing buildings for use in paneling and other structures. When one of its 30 sales reps visits a customer, it's often in an inaccessible place, such as inside a half-constructed skyscraper.

So the company equipped its reps with cellular-enabled laptops. Using them, they can log on to the company's accounts, access customer data, and even prepare presentations. "We can say to a customer, 'Here's the six choices that meet your requirements,'" Arciniega says. "It's a wireless solution that allows us to provide faster, better resources in front of the client, and it helps us support a sales force that isn't close to the office."

Momentum went with Sprint because of its good cellular coverage; salespeople can get online anywhere in the United States, as well as in Toronto, and speed hasn't been an issue, Arciniega says. "We went in with the most modest expectations. But it's just been phenomenal. They can connect everywhere."

Partly as a result of this new weapon in the sales arsenal, Momentum has seen the number of new commercial-building opportunities in its pipeline surge from about 200 to more than 8,900. Arciniega figures that the technology investment of just over $100,000 will easily pay for itself within a year. "The reps feel more connected; they have more information, more power. That's a huge benefit to us," he says.

For caseworkers at Genex, the return isn't as much a financial one as increased efficiency and accuracy. "We're allowing people to record information in a more timely fashion, while the details are still clear in their heads, and to take advantage of some downtime in their day," says Darrell. "We've turned downtime into productive time." Darrell even argues that cellular modems give workers a better quality of life. "We've taken a job that they would have had to do at home, and pushed that into the real workday," he says. "Things like that help us both attract and maintain employees."

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