Deploying mobile solutions in an enterprise can either be a hugely daunting undertaking or a relatively simple one. As with most projects, time spent planning is time well-spent. To make your role as a buyer easier, here is a checklist of the things that will hopefully provide some guidance—to one portion of your job, anyway. The focus here is on the top U.S. wireless carriers (Cingular, Nextel, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless) and what each has to offer.
A thorough look at a company’s Web site is one way to begin getting the most out of a product or service. With emerging technologies and markets, the simplicity of the message and the availability of information are factors in my desire to buy from a particular company. Also, it’s fair to say that a clear message is often an indication of how well the solution provider understands its products and market. So, let’s look at how well the carriers do.
Cingular: An enterprise buyer would be duly impressed by the very clear message and path to information found on the Cingular site. A quick click on business solutions leads to either voice or data solutions with subheadings below them. Not only do you get a description of the offering, but you get a picture of a BlackBerry or Treo. E-mail, messaging, laptop access via tethered phone or separate modem, integrated voice and data, custom and Mobitex solutions—in a very short period of time, you can determine if there’s something you want or need.
Nextel: Once you get past the home page and to the business solutions page, one gets the impression that Nextel has been selling to the enterprise for a long time. Voice, data, GPS and security are well-defined and, more importantly, Nextel has segmented its information by industry, which gives the reader a bit more detail on how to deploy. However, it takes some effort to determine that Nextel does have a separate non-phone modem used for accessing the network with a PC.
Sprint PCS: The company from which I would have expected a clear and broad offering is Sprint PCS. Was I wrong! Not to say it doesn’t have the solutions, but it takes some time to find them. Sprint appears to be trying to show an integrated wired and wireless offering, coupled with both voice and data services, but, it’s easy to get lost if you’re trying to determine the types of wireless data offerings it has for the enterprise. It offers Connection Cards (modems for laptops),
Wi-Fi access, data phones, BlackBerry devices and Palm Treos. Add to that a section on industry solutions, and you eventually get the picture that Sprint PCS has a full assortment of data offerings.
T-Mobile: Here’s a company that is leveraging its Web site as a tool to provide useful information to enterprise buyers. You can drill down to find almost anything you need. For example, under products/network cards, you can find a Sony Ericsson GC79 that is a tri-band GSM/GPRS, 802.11b (Wi-Fi)-equipped PC Card, and a list of OS compatibilities and the price. Most impressive is a business solutions directory that allows you to search for software based on solution cateogry (i.e., text messaging, mobile office) and the platform (i.e., Windows desktop). T-Mobile brings an Internet mindset to the business of wireless data.
Verizon Wireless: At first glance, it’s difficult to tell
if Verizon has a data offering. Its mobile offerings
are summarized with branded services: VZVoice, VZAccess (data access) and VZMail (BlackBerry and WirelessSync). Compared to the other operators, the information available seems thin for an enterprise customer. The flip side is the simplicity of the offering. Ultimately, wireless data services to the enterprise can be thought of as just another remote access method, so why not sell it as that? If the Web site is your first stop for information, VZW has room for improvement.
Good or bad, Web sites don’t always translate into an easy buy process or decision. There are some consistencies with all the carriers that bode well for the enterprise buyer.
1. They all offer levels of support based on the number of users you are targeting for your deployment. A general rule of thumb is up to five users are handled by any rep (i.e., retail store); between five and 50, you will get a specialized business rep; anything over those numbers and you will be contacted by a sales representative. This makes sense, as the larger the deployment, the more they want to cater to you. Be very clear to the first person with whom you speak about the size of your deployment. It will save a lot of angst.
2. Mobile data has taken on such importance that even at carrier retail locations, I’ve found many informed salespeople who know the products, the technology and the organization and will assist you. This is in stark contrast to just a few years ago,
when it was like pulling teeth to get
information and only a handful of people at the corporate sites were helpful.
3. When you finally reach someone in person, they all are customer-oriented and interested in helping you with your solution.
4. They tend to ask you questions as though you know what you want.
5. They talk about “lines,” not numbers of users, a seemingly voice-oriented approach.
Coverage and Technology
For the typical enterprise buyer, coverage should be a non-issue. Today, most operators have data coverage wherever there is voice coverage. A key factor in determining your provider is the technology on which it operates data services (GSM/GPRS or CDMA).
It’s important to recognize that many applications are not data intensive. As a result, a slow network is OK. Keep in mind that slow is relative. Many companies have been running critical apps for years on wireless networks operating at 9.6 Kbps. However, for many current-day applications that utilize Web front ends, are multimedia oriented or one used by workers unwilling to wait two minutes for a download, broadband wireless networks are for them. The deployment of broadband networks is a major factor in the current momentum of the wireless market.
Additionally, most operators offer some form of network enhancement product through a partner/vendor, typically referred to as optimization or acceleration. These products generally sit behind a firewall, work in conjunction with the application to ensure best performance of TCP-based applications and can improve application performance by up to five times.
The carriers have done an outstanding job of building data networks to support the wireless enterprise—and spent billions of dollars doing it. There are plenty of devices and service plans available, with more than enough choices out there for the smallest and largest companies to wirelessly access the corporate network.
It’s time for enterprises to take some action. For years, I’ve watched company after company talk about wirelessly enabling their employees, only to sit back and wait. For what? The minute dial-up and DSL access were available, they made it available to their employees. Today they buy laptops that are Wi-Fi equipped. The most obvious starting point for any company is to equip their remote laptop users (execs, salespeople, service techs, etc.) with wireless cards that will enable them to do business anywhere they have wireless access. Attention, CEOs: Inaction is costing you money. You don’t need to spend a million dollars deploying wireless applications; most of them are already available. Just utilize them. It’s time to think about wireless networks the same way you do dial-up or DSL networks.•