3G wireless not just for big shots anymore

EV-DO, other advanced mobile-data technologies getting widespread corporate adoption

Mobile wireless is shaking things up at Joy Mining Machinery, a Franklin, Pa., firm that provides 3G cards to its executives and service personnel in the field. The company has 800 laptop users, who access its VPN using Wi-Fi, broadband or dial-up connections through Fiberlink Communications' secure remote-access software, says Tim Spence, client services manager with Joy Mining Machinery. "We've given out [cellular cards] when dial-up is not an option, and when there's no access to Wi-Fi."

Spence says his users are looking for 3G coverage to reach more of the rural areas where Joy Mining Machinery's customers are located. "A lot of my laptop users are remote field service people," he says. "We service the mining industry: coal mines, iron ore mines. They are not in metropolitan areas. That's a challenge for us in finding ways to connect at those sites. Some sites have gone with cellular because dial-up was slower or problematic."

Spence sees growing demand for wireless access to network resources among the company's 2,500 users. "Initially, we were restricting wireless access. You couldn't get it except for on an approved basis," he says. "But over the past two years, it has skyrocketed from maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of our end users to 50 percent to 75 percent connecting through wireless."

Spence says he has an ongoing BlackBerry pilot project for executives that may get rolled out to the entire salesforce. "Right now, I do see wireless cellular expanding to more users," he says. "There are more users asking about it, and managers are justifying the cost."

The ROI for mobile data is "increased productivity, increased communication, access to e-mail and timely access to our systems," Spence says. "Previously, our field people had to wait until evening when they were at home or at a hotel to retrieve or send e-mail. . . . The cost of wireless is certainly a concern, but the productivity increase offsets that."

Why users like mobile data

Users like EV-DO and 3G technologies because they are faster than earlier wireless technologies and more convenient than Wi-Fi. They don't need to hunt down a Starbucks to hook up to Wi-Fi to access e-mail or look up critical customer data. Given the widespread coverage of many EV-DO and 3G wireless networks, users find they can get high-speed network access from most locations. "We haven't had any issues with coverage," Adidas' Oligmueller says, adding that his company buys its BlackBerry 3G service from AT&T.

The cost of EV-DO and 3G service has come down to the point where most CIOs see the benefit of providing mobile access to hundreds or thousands of employees. "Cost is not an issue," Oligmueller says. "When I look at the salesforce being in front of customers and able to give them data on the spot, it's worth the US$50 a month that it costs."

Outsource Partners Inc. (OPI), a New York financial and accounting outsourcing firm, has reaped savings by migrating 75 frequent-flyer U.S. consultants from Wi-Fi to Sprint Nextel's high-speed EV-DO Rev A service.

"Most of them are specialists who travel site-to-site throughout the U.S. Typically they would rack up US$110 to US$120 a week in Internet fees at airports or hotels," says CIO Glen Baker. "We're spending US$59 to US$79 per month with Sprint. We've seen significant savings, and the bandwidth provided is more than adequate."

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

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