Wireless experts share secrets of success

TORONTO (03/03/2004) - Experts were on hand Tuesday during the Canadian Wi-Fi Power Business Solutions Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to discuss the key factors in implementing mobile solutions within the enterprise.

Although the speakers had different tips for conference attendees that are thinking about going mobile, they all agreed on one key point: know what applications will be needed by wireless workers before thinking about the device.

Enterprises today are being faced with a choice problem. On the device side alone there are many options, which can be confusing to an enterprise that hasn't had a mobile workforce traditionally, according to Michael Kuhlmann, co-founder and vice-president of business development for Vancouver-based wireless Internet service provider (WISP) FatPort Corp.

When choosing a mobile solution, Kuhlmann said the "stuff has to be supported easily, easy to use and the whole point in wireless is that it saves them time."

He added that before choosing a device blindly, users need to give serious thought to what is important to them when they are carrying the device. The phone is great, it allows the user to talk to people and it displays the time but it can't do much else beyond that conveniently or comfortably, Kuhlmann said. At the other end of the spectrum is the laptop, but it is significantly larger.

Because the technology has been around for a few years now and has had time to prove itself in the market, Wi-Fi has shown some key benefits, according to Kuhlmann, namely that it is cheap and fast. Something that still may be holding back the adoption rate, however, is the perception that it is insecure.

Kuhlmann said that security can be solved in one simple step, by calling on companies including Check Point Software Technologies or Nortel Networks and having them install a virtual private network (VPN).

"If you are worried about security, install a VPN and stop worrying about security," Kuhlmann said.

Choosing the right application is fundamental when deciding on a mobile solution, he said, adding that once an enterprise has chosen the application, the device needed will become obvious.

"What is the application that drives what you have to do? If it's writing e-mails than by God you need a device and a service that lets you do that."

Two sure-fire ways of selecting and implementing the right mobile solution for an enterprises are to hire a consultant for advice and an integrator to install the system, Kuhlmann said.

Mark Pineau, director of enterprise mobility at Fujitsu Consulting in Toronto, said that 80 per cent of mobility projects fail because organizations don't understand the complexity of implementing a mobile solution.

When it comes to a mobile solution, a phone with e-mail access is the easiest possible solution available, Pineau said, adding that many companies mistakenly think a Research In Motion (RIM) device with e-mail access defines a mobile solution, which is not the case.

"A mobile solution is a solution that can help a worker do their job everyday, not giving the new VP a RIM product. You're not going to get much out of that," he added.

When implementing a mobile solution, organizations have to develop a knowledge base to understand the complexity of the technology and of putting the pieces together. Pineau warned not to simply buy the cheapest solution but to build relationships with service providers.

In the end, Pineau said that if a mobile solution is not adding value to an organization, then there is no point in going ahead with or continuing a project.

"If you are doing something that makes your customers happier, but you are not differentiating yourself, why are you doing it?"

Over the past nine months VIA Rail has put two Wi-Fi testing programs in place aboard its VIA 1 railcars, one with Bell Canada and the other with Toronto-based Spotnik Mobile. According to VIA, both have worked out very well.

To compete against low fare air carriers like Jetsgo and busses that travel more routes per day than VIA 1, Guy Faulkner, product manager of corridor services (Quebec and Ontario) at VIA Rail Canada said that it was essential to give travelers what they were demanding -- Internet access aboard the train.

In a survey conducted by Bell Canada regarding its VIA 1 Wi-Fi access, Faulkner said in a rating out of five, customers rated the overall wireless service a four and the usefulness of having Internet service aboard the train a 4.8.

When asked what users were doing with the connection once they had logged in, Faulkner said the breakdown was: 28.83 per cent were browsing the Web; 16.6 per cent were signing on to a VPN connection; 16.6 per cent were accessing Web e-mail; 22.78 per cent were accessing client e-mail; and 15.19 per cent were accessing a corporate intranet.

Although traditionally, many hotspot operators have found it difficult to prove a lucrative return on investment (ROI) by offering Wi-Fi technology, Faulkner said that once its trials are over and VIA rail begins to charge for the service, it plans on gaining most of its ROI from the revenues it receives from advertising.

In its survey, Bell Canada also tried to determine what users of the Wi-Fi service were willing to pay for the connection. Faulkner said that the results were predictable, the higher the cost, the less users would want it.

At C$1.50 (US$1.12), 48.72 per cent of users would pay for the technology aboard the train, at C$3.00, 30.5 per cent would be willing to pay and at C$5.00, 21 per cent would pay the fee.

The Wi-Fi Power conference in Toronto is running from Mar. 1 until Mar. 3

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