What's Your 3G Value-Add?
Advances in cellular data technology are creating opportunities for VARs to sell bundled mobile computing hardware, software, and professional services.
There are a lot of changes happening in the wireless mobile computing space that VARs can't afford to miss. First, consider this: According to ZDNet Research, the global mobile computing market reached $63.5 billion in 2006 and is expected to grow to more than $88 billion by 2011. In 2006, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, and Cingular Wireless enhanced the footprint of their 3G (third generation) wireless services. Today, high-speed cellular data services such as HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access), EDGE (enhanced data rates for global evolution), and EV-DO (evolution data-optimized) connectivity are available in more than 400 metropolitan areas throughout the United States and Canada. Wireless broadband is finally becoming a reality with upload speeds ranging from 50 to 500 Kbps (Kilobits per second) and download speeds ranging from 400 to 1,400 Kbps.
With all the 3G wireless connectivity and mobile computing options available, how can VARs know where to focus their attention? Industry experts from Grayhill, Janam, Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, and Psion Teklogix offer their timely advice.
Mobile Computing Software Sales Opportunities Abound
Sheila O'Neil, senior director of channel sales at Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, has seen an uptick in mobile computing adoption within the construction vertical market in the past year. The reason for this increased adoption has a lot to do with the kind of data construction companies transmit: large blueprints. Storing documents on mobile computing devices usually wasn't an option because of how easy it is to copy electronic content, which makes document control nearly impossible. "Thanks to advances in the availability of 3G wireless connectivity, however, construction companies can control electronic documents by requiring mobile computers to sync wirelessly with a remote server [which contains the most up-to-date document] prior to printing documents such as blueprints in the field," says O'Neil. "VARs play a key role in this process by developing applications that enforce wireless syncing rules and ensure the proper revision control [e.g. date and time stamping] is added to the mobile printing process."
Dan Naughton, business development manager at Grayhill Inc., sees the transportation industry as another hot market for wireless mobile computing solutions. "Delivery drivers are in high demand and represent the fastest growing segment, by numbers, of any vertical market," he says. "In an effort to get more value out of their resources, many transportation companies are looking for delivery personnel who also fulfill salesperson and customer service representative roles." The way these companies can achieve their goal is by using wireless mobile computing solutions that give delivery drivers access to ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) applications. Delivery personnel are also being equipped with mobile computers that give them the ability to scan and input data as well as print receipts and/or invoices on-site.
"Many internal IT teams are comfortable supporting desktop PCs, but not smartphones and other kinds of mobile computers," says Naughton. "In many instances, the carriers are responsible for supporting the wireless mobile computers, but VARs are the ones responsible for the software that runs on the devices."
Another opportunity VARs should keep in mind for the near future is providing simultaneous voice and data transmission using the same mobile computer and wireless network. "Consider a utility technician who is called to fix a downed electric line and discovers a problem with a transformer that he's never encountered before," says Mike Jachimiec, director of channels at Psion Teklogix. "He can use his mobile computing device to call tech support and talk to an engineer. And, while he's talking to the engineer and receiving instructions, the technician can be downloading a file that will help him troubleshoot the problem." This is another example of an opportunity where VARs will be able to add value by implementing software that enables a mobile computer to receive voice and data packets simultaneously and to give priority to the voice packets (i.e. quality of service). For a more detailed example of how a VAR can develop and sell custom applications, see the installation review article in this issue titled "Build A Flexible Route Accounting Solution," on page 60.
Don't Neglect The Mobile Computing Details
Three years ago, VARs could make money by helping end users select compatible hardware components. In today's standards-based world of plug and play mobile computers and peripherals, advising customers about compatible equipment (e.g. wireless access points and routers) is no longer a profitable service. However, there are several other ways VARs can distinguish themselves from their competitors. One important piece of advice, according to Harry B. Lerner, co-CEO of Janam Technologies LLC, is to remember that mobile computing solutions are not a one-size-fits-all deal. Even when you know the right kind of device for your customer, there are some additional details that need to be addressed. "The first thing is battery management," he says. "If the customer needs the battery to last 9 hours between charges and your mobile computer's battery lasts only 6 hours, the customer is not going to be happy. The resolution to this problem is to configure the mobile computer to conserve power when not in use by using a sleep mode."
In addition to battery management, VARs should consider where their customers are going to use their mobile computers. "For example, a construction worker may need to use a rugged laptop outside on a bright, sunny day; therefore, the device will need to have a screen brightness of 1,000 NITs [A unit of measurement of brightness]," says O'Neil. "Likewise, if the customer will be using its mobile computers at night, such as a well drilling company that works night shifts, a mobile computer with a backlit keyboard display should be considered."
Help Your Customers Protect Their Mobile Computing Investments
The wireless mobile computing landscape is changing quickly. One downside with this trend is that it causes many end users to want to put off making mobile computing buying decisions. The reason for the delay is that many companies fear making a significant investment in mobile computing technology, and then the technology becomes obsolete within a year. One way you can help alleviate this fear is by showing your customers you're interested in protecting their investment. "The most important thing is to assess your customers' needs and understand what they want to do now and what they are planning to do three years from now," says Jachimiec. "Using mobile computers with upgradeable scanners or radios helps protect your customers' investments." For example, a customer may want a mobile computer that can read bar codes now, but within three years, the customer may have plans to read RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. Or, it may need only Wi-Fi connectivity now, but may want to add 3G connectivity down the road. Some mobile computing devices support changing the scanning engines and/or radios, which is about 80% less expensive than replacing the entire mobile computer.
3G cellular data is changing mobile computing in a big way and opening up opportunities that never existed before. There are lots of choices end users need to make with regard to service plans, mobile computers, and software. Being a VAR that understands all the components that go into a 3G wireless mobile computing solution is what will separate you from the box movers of the world.