Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Mobile Printing & What's to Come

Carrying all your info around in digital form has many advantages, but there are times when only hard copies will do-like when you want to give your audience handouts of your presentation. When you need printing on the road and you're far from your 15-pound laser printer, your options are often to fax or e-mail your documents to your hotel or a nearby Kinko's. Neither solution offers quite the convenience and quality you'd really like. "Printing is a pain point for a lot of people," confirms Golvin. "Even though most people do presentations using laptops and overhead projectors, they still like to have paper."

Fortunately, portable printers can please most paper-loving mobile entrepreneurs while offering fewer compromises than other mobile printing options. Canon's i70 $250 Color Bubble Jet inkjet printer weighs in at less than 4 pounds and is a little over a foot long, less than 7 inches wide and 2 inches deep. It prints up to 13 ppm in black and white, 9 ppm in color, and takes 60 seconds to print a 4-by-6-inch photo at up to 4,800 x 1,200 dpi resolution. It prints on paper up to legal size and has a standard 30-sheet feeder that can also handle envelopes.

The $299 Brother MPrint MW-100 microthermal printer is still more petite, weighing less than 10 ounces and measuring 4 by 6.4 by 0.7 inches. A lithium ion battery powers printing up to 100 sheets of A7-size, or 2.91 by 4.13 inch, thermal paper. The 50-sheet paper cassette also handles self-adhesive labels, and special carbon-copy stock allows you to make an original and duplicate in one pass. It communicates with laptops and PDAs via an infrared or USB port.

The Mobile Future
While business travel may be down, business mobility isn't. Technology is providing solutions for entrepreneurs who work from home or who just wander down the hall. IP Office, an office telephone system from Avaya, provides growing companies with all-in-one data and voice communications for around $375 per station. It offers tools like a "follow me" feature that allows absent workers to forward calls invisibly to home, a meeting room, the hotel or wherever they may be. "Then people can be contacted 24 hours a day," says London-based IP Office product manager Jayne McLachlan. "That makes them much more productive and efficient."

Other mobile-friendly features of IP Office let growing companies inexpensively host their own teleconferences and provide remote access to homebased workers and distant offices. In the future, systems like IP Office will automatically switch cell phone calls from the cellular network-where per-minute charges apply-to the in-house network as a caller walks from the parking lot into the building, McLachlan says.

Seamless integration of wide-area packet data networks and more localized Wi-Fi hot spots is one of the next big objectives for mobile computing and communications. Opinions vary on when that will occur.

Other trends that may help mobile entrepreneurs include increasing standardization and linking of mobile networks, more emphasis on customer care and expanding network coverage, and improvements to that old bugaboo-battery life. Heightened competition among network operators may help the progress of standardization and innovation. Powerful new lithium ion batteries, more sophisticated power management, and experiments with different fuel cells raise hopes that short battery life may soon be a worry of the past.

Meanwhile, no matter what limitations or possibilities are created by the technologies available to mobile entrepreneurs, the business reason for employing them remains compelling. "To provide good service, you have to have instant answers," says Chander Dhawan, mobile IT consultant for MobileInfo.com, a Thornhill, Ontario-based computing information site. "Those who will grow and carry on are those [who] will invest in this type of technology."

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This article was originally published in the November 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Oh, the Places You'll Go!.

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