We have published this column for more than two years now, and along the way we have managed to build a sizeable community of loyal readers who are educated, entertained and occasionally motivated by our weekly dispatches from the front lines of mobile and wireless solutions. Not surprisingly, these subscribers are never at a loss for words when it comes to offering suggestions and comments on our editorial, so our mailbag is often filled with interesting and helpful messages that foster the interactive nature of our weekly ramblings.
The following are a few missives we have culled from our databases (yes, we are information packrats and save everything, much to the consternation of our IT department and its storage resources!) that offer additional insights, guidance and perspective for everyone involved in the mobile and wireless field. A tip of the hat to all our readers who have sent in their suggestions (and criticisms!), as well as an invitation for others in our little community pull up a keyboard and follow suit. We have done a bit of editing on the following, eliminating obvious product and company plugs and such, but for the most part these messages remain intact. But if you drop us a line we will let you know a little more about the authors and the services they discuss.
The long and winding road to customer care
"I work with a number of technology companies in the Toronto area in a legal and corporate development capacity, including one that I think is addressing a very important area for wireless carriers -- customer care. The demand for its products, so far, has been overwhelming. Every mobile user has anecdotes resulting from the torturous process of calling a carrier's customer care department. Inevitably, it involves a 20 minute wait on hold to speak with a customer care rep, who ultimately is unable to resolve the problem that prompted the call.
"Up until recently, most calls have related to voice or billing problems. However, with all the new, next generation phones being introduced with cameras, ring tones, downloadable apps, etc, the carrier's customer care center is being barraged with a number of technical calls that take even longer to resolve. Typically, the customer care rep has to walk the subscriber through a list of questions and coach him through a number of menus, having him read out settings or change parameters as they go.
"The costs of customer care are skyrocketing for carriers -- not only are call volumes growing exponentially, but the technical knowledge required by the customer care reps result in higher training costs and longer wait times. Considering the average carrier employs one rep for every 2,000 subscribers, a midsized carrier with 10 million subs would employ 5,000 customer care reps making at least $30,000 each, or $150 million in salaries alone. By cutting a 30-minute call to a three-minute call, [a third-party solutions provider] can save a carrier millions of dollars every year, while simultaneously making subscribers happier.
"There hasn't been much written about customer care in the industry, or the automation of the process. But, as [we have found out], the issue is a very important and costly one for carriers and may make some good reading for your subscribers."
Someone is watching you...but they may not be using GPS!
"PLEASE, let's not oversell GPS. Your example of the lost little girl in the store has a few perforations. GPS only works when the receiver can 'see' several satellites. The fewer you can 'see', the less accurate the positioning. So in a large building, you may only be able to receive one or two signals, instead of five or six. And that's if you're within a few feet of the windows. If the building windows have certain types of reflective energy-conserving coating, the sat signals don't penetrate.
"Even if the phone can compute its position, it only does it in two dimensions. So, if the little munchkin is in a multi-story building, you can't tell which floor she's on. Most of the GPS-enabled phones have the function turned off (mine included), so it only works if the phone makes a 911 call. Her answering a call wouldn't enable it. And what make/model of phone would the mother have that would give her the other phone's position? I haven't seen one available. Maybe I'm (as usual) looking in all the wrong places.
"In terms of your discussion concerning freedom and devices that might limit that freedom, as well as your analogy to the use of seat belts, let me first say that I have used auto seat belts since 1962. The day after I got my first car, seat belts were installed in it. And every car since has had them. I've even worn out seat belts! But, I agree with those who say the use of seat belts should be their choice -- provided that by choosing to NOT use seat belts, they waive any claim to private or public reimbursement for property damage, medical expenses and the ever-popular 'pain and suffering'. They should have the right to choose -- and take the consequences.
"On the subject of personal freedom and security measures, to paraphrase someone wiser than I: 'He who gives up freedom for security gets more of neither.' Sooner or later the threat will go away, but the freedom you gave up will never come back."
Taking a long, hard look at short-term goals
"One of the things you always talk about is the necessity for establishing and maintaining long-term goals when planning mobile and wireless projects. We are now right at the beginning of a wireless project and believe me, we are not focused on long-term goals. Right now, we have all we can do to install the wireless system in several departments, and make sure we have adequate centralized management and control. We are also focused on getting things to run smoothly, getting good performance from our 802.11b system and keeping within budget. This last point is particularly important since we are a public agency and cost and reliability are both big issues."
Cisco kits are good friends of mine...if the price is right!
"Thanks for writing about all of the concerns IT people have about deploying and managing mobile and wireless systems. We can certainly relate. Our requests came down from the business side and the CIO, and eventually came down to IT. What the decision basically came down to is that it was because the existing infrastructure and wiring was really old it was cheaper to put in wireless solution. Most facilities have up to date wiring and it's more of an ease-of-use solution rather than something that is really needed. There usually a lot of wired ports to plug into, but maybe not as many as they would like -- nothing that a switch wouldn't rectify.
"My primary concerns as an IT person involve security and trying to maintain standards. If there are a certain number of applications that are used through wireless access, then these should be controlled from one single device and then that should control multiple devices. The solution we use involves one master device that we configure and then allow access to this device. Policies can get pushed down to the slaves, and the slaves can control the access points in those facilities.
Regarding all the discussion involving Cisco and non-Cisco shops: In our case, price had a lot to do with the decision to go with a third party. There were Cisco solutions out there, but the solution we selected seemed to be the least expensive. It was the best solution for our money."
Some advice for the 'wireless-lorn'
"Why all this concern about working with or not working with multiple vendors? One of the best reasons for going with a single vendor, or at least a project manager, is that you may have 'one neck to choke' if things get bad, although in reality that is not the truth. We found that going with a 'brand name' is a good thing and worth spending the extra money. Well-known vendors give you that feeling of 'industrial strength' and size and have a higher awareness level in the industry. There is more specialized equipment out there, but with a lower awareness level.
"A more serious concern for us is that many of the departments we look to link via wireless systems really don't have anything going at all in terms of wireless, and are committed to multiple internal networking standards. Top requirements for us include: Establishing a 'trusted' user system (which is easy to log into and get access); building a system that allows users to easily check their e-mail using passwords and IDs, and limits Internet access to certain Web sites; and keeping unauthorized users off the system, which spans multiple floors in an office building.
"Our recommendation for other users: Pay closer attention to access point coverage and spend more time on initial site surveys and maps. We found out the hard way that the corner offices in our building had signal degradation and poor reception. Make sure all spots are covered.
"Also, keep initial requirements simple and look for vendors who can provide solutions at a reasonable price. It is also a good idea to work with resellers and systems integrators, since they know your business and how they technology can work to solve your problems."
Tim Scannell is the president and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. Shoreline works with end users, looking to implement mobile solutions, and vendors, developing new products and seeking business and customer opportunities. The company also specializes in training and strategic planning projects. For more information on Shoreline Research and the company's strategic services please go to http://www.shorelineresearch.com.
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