Upward Mobility

This is the year wireless takes off. Are you along for the ride or letting your competitors get off to a huge start?
Magazine Contributor
11 min read

This story appears in the January 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Bruce Sanguinetti's job doesn't stop when he walks out his office door. It doesn't stop when he leaves his office building in Palo Alto, California, either. Train stations, restaurants and airports all represent wireless opportunities to flip open his notebook computer, hook into the company network and take care of business.

As the CEO and president of Wi-Fi chipset-maker Bermai and a veteran of four wireless start-ups, Sanguinetti may be a wireless step or two ahead of many entrepreneurs, but the path he travels is becoming both wide and well-paved.

Welcome to a day in the life of a wireless entrepreneur. Alarm, shower, breakfast, Wi-Fi. Sanguinetti opens his laptop, which automatically logs into his home Wi-Fi network, and checks his e-mail to prepare for the workday. Then it's off to the train station to catch a commuter ride. With a little time to spare, he ducks into the Le Boulanger bakery across the street for coffee and access to their wireless network. He files attachments and, of course, keeps his cell phone ready for any early calls.

In meetings at Bermai, the staff uses high-powered laptops to exchange minutes and data over 802.11b Wi-Fi. In the afternoon, Sanguinetti skips out to the Printer's Ink Cafe for 90 minutes of quality work time with his laptop and a smoothie. "I was never officially out of the office," he says.

If you don't recognize yourself here, chances are you will before 2003 is over. Wireless technologies are more affordable and more integral than ever before. Come explore the wireless jungle and visit the technologies that will make an impact over the coming year: cellular services and devices, mobile commerce, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.


U.S. mobile subscribers will increase by

by the end of 2006.

Source: The Yankee Group


U.S. adults access the Internet through cell phones or PDAs.

Source: ComScore Media Metrix


Mobile Future

When we think about wireless, the first thing to pop into our minds is the good old standby mobile phone. It's fun to think back to the brick-sized chunks of phone that came out in the '80s. Now, devices are so small you can lose them in your Dockers. That's progress. We'll take a look a little later at some of the conflicting design trends of cellular phones. Right now, it's time for an exploration of the much-hyped G's: 2.5G and 3G.

The here and now is 2.5G. Although there's some argument over what truly qualifies as 3G, it's safe to say that there is not a network in the country yet that gets anywhere near the speeds required to carry true 3G data types.

Though e-mail and messaging come over phones enabled with Sprint's much-promoted nationwide PCS Vision faster than ever before, what Sprint calls 3G is only a step in the right direction.

Verizon's 2.5G Express Network service, also available nationwide, is comparable. Cindy Patterson, vice president of enterprise data sales at Verizon Wireless, sees the most demand for short messaging services (SMS), remote access mobile e-mail services and international traveler features that allow users to keep one phone number wherever they go. Speeds can burst up to 144Kbps, but only under ideal conditions. Verizon and other carriers are test-marketing 3G services that reach broadband speeds allowing streaming media and the potential for more powerful mobile business applications, but it may well be the end of the year before we really get a strong inkling as to the wide availability (and desirability) of 3G services.

If your budget is willing and the current crop of applications are useful for your business, there's no need to wait before launching a mobile strategy. "For entrepreneurs, it's really important to build mobility into their business from the beginning. It will save them a lot of money upfront and also give them a competitive edge," says Patterson. For example, while SMS hasn't exploded like wildfire, it can be a good fit to provide short, timely updates to a mobile sales force. SMS advances we'll see this year include longer messages and delivery confirmation. Cellular in 2003 will be about mobile entrepreneurs adopting and adapting the services that are available to fill their needs.

The possibilities for high-speed mobile data coming down the line won't have much impact on displays the size of postage stamps. We asked around and found that experts are seeing a trend toward bigger screens on mobile phones and phone/PDA hybrids. You may end up kissing your sub-3-ounce marvel of a miniscule phone goodbye in exchange for services like e-mail or messaging.

"There are a couple strategies a business can go with from a device perspective," says Patterson. "They can have a phone that does data or they can have a data device that does voice." What you choose depends on your goals.

Data-oriented devices like the Handspring Treo will be bulkier and often pricier, but they make services like wireless Internet and e-mail much more comfortable to use.

Digital imaging-enabled mobile device shipments will reach

worldwide by 2006.

Source: IDC

More than

wireless network access points are in use by 700,000 U.S. enterprises.

Source: The Yankee Group


M, M, Good!

Much-hyped mobile commerce, or m-commerce as it's known, hasn't exactly rocked the business world. Just the thought of hordes of consumers receiving offers and buying products instantly over their cell phones and PDAs wherever they go may induce swooning, but buyers haven't been so enamored of the idea. User habits may evolve, but don't look to 2003 as the year it all takes off.

That doesn't mean m-commerce is at a standstill. Just ask Brian Barry, owner of Hair Bandits hair salon in Tampa, Florida. He signed on for MoBull Messenger, a wireless service that sends school updates and opt-in ads to University of South Florida students. Run in conjunction with Air2Web, a mobile business solutions provider, the program is in its early stages, but Barry is already pleased with the response he's received.

Coupons or discount offers from local businesses are relayed to students' wireless devices for a fee. Hair Bandits maintains a log of inquiries and appointments sparked by the MoBull messages. "You get an immediate response," Barry says. "It's a better way to track your advertising dollar, and it's effective." He did learn that extended week-long promotions were a lot more effective than single-day offers. M-commerce in 2003 will likely look a lot more like Hair Bandits' experience than crowds of consumers hitting "buy" buttons on cell phones.

Picture Perfect
Sony DSC-FX77: The DSC-FX77 is the first Bluetooth-enabled digital camera to hit the market. It can transmit up to 30 feet to other Bluetooth devices like laptops, desktops or phones. Currently available in Europe, the DSC-FX77 or a similar model should make a U.S. appearance before the year is out. Street price: Not yet available.

Not Bad at All
Good Technology's Good G100: A thumb keyboard and a grayscale screen top this Blackberry-like wireless device aimed at the business market. It works with Good Technology's service offerings that allow wireless access to messaging and Web-based applications. Syncs with Microsoft Exchange. Call (888) 7-BE GOOD for pricing.

Wild Blue Yonder

Now that Bluetooth has officially arrived, what's it good for? "Bluetooth is going to be the IrdA of the 2000 decade," says Sanguinetti. "IrdA was in every device you bought in the late '90s. I don't know of anybody who uses it." If you look on your laptop or PDA, chances are you'll find the infrared port Sanguinetti is talking about. Bluetooth will indeed show up in more and more mobile products of all sizes this year, but it has power and flexibility advantages over IrdA that give it a much rosier outlook.

Sanguinetti points to Bluetooth cell phone headsets, automatic PDA to desktop sync links and wireless printing as possible killer apps that could boost Bluetooth adoption. Laptop shoppers are likely to find it either standard or as a common option on PCs. If you buy it now, you won't have to upgrade later when that desirable business application finally comes into reach.

Be forewarned: We're going to spend some quality time with Wi-Fi. The affordable availability of 11Mbps 802.11b was one of the biggest growing business technology stories of 2002. Offices everywhere took to sharing broadband Internet access, files, data and peripherals through the air. The Wi-Fi chapter set to be written in 2003 will be even more exciting.

It's a warm Monday afternoon in New Mexico, and Allan Adler, co-founder and CEO of Santa Fe Wi-Fi network hotspot provider WorkingWild, is sitting in a booth at a pub eating a salad. He's also surfing the Net at high speeds on one of the networks his company installed in locations around the state. He shares his vision of a Wi-Fi future for entrepreneurs everywhere:

"What we are embarking on is a complete revolution in how people think about Wi-Fi," he says. Adler knows that restaurants and coffeehouses, while nice for laptop-users eager to get out of the office for a while, are small potatoes compared to Wi-Fi's big picture. He and co-founder Richard Becker hope to make Wi-Fi hotspots profitable by offering a mix of possible services like wireless media screens or store and employee surveillance capabilities. He calls these "aggregated Wi-Fi applications."

WorkingWild signed a deal with Philips 66 to deploy ZapLane hotspots in 18,000 convenience stores and gas stations. Work some aggregated Wi-Fi applications into the mix, and suddenly you have more than just casual users and early adopters popping in for coffee and a slice of Internet access. For mobile entrepreneurs who spend as much time in their cars as they do in the office, it will bring a whole new convenience to convenience stores. "Fill up your tank, fill up your laptop," Adler says. And there will be a designated netzone parking spot to pull up and log in without leaving your car.

Meanwhile, back in the office, the much-faster 802.11a Wi-Fi standard will start to infiltrate growing businesses in 2003 as the hardware becomes more affordable. "11a is going to be the next frontier for the business use of wireless LAN. The demand for security and high throughput is going to assure the adoption," says Sanguinetti. The strongest signs of 11a will come when laptop manufacturers start to include built-in 11b/11a capabilities. Expect to see these new notebooks appear in the first half of the year. Besides speed, 11a's stronger security features will allay a lot of concerns entrepreneurs have about wireless networks.

Maybe by next January, we'll look back and call 2003 "The Year of the Wireless Entrepreneur." We'll have mobile phones and PDAs that check e-mail, handle calls, take messages (voice and text), and keep our schedules and contacts. We'll have high-speed wireless Internet and business network access in many locations: airports, coffee shops, train stations, convenience stores, hotels and homes. Bluetooth will connect laptops and handhelds to printers and each other. Your business now stretches as far as your wireless technology will take you. Goodbye wires, goodbye walls.

Click This Way
  • mFinder: A huge directory of mobile Internet sites, mFinder is like a Yahoo! specifically geared for the wireless Web.
  • WiFinder.com: No matter where your business takes you, WiFinder.com will help you locate Wi-Fi hotspots along the way. Search by location and by commercial or community sites.
  • Wireless.com: This easy-to-remember domain name gets you to an online community that covers everything wireless, from 3G to satellites. The forums may be especially useful.
  • WirelessNewsFactor.com: A clearinghouse for wireless news, this is a great place to keep up-to-date on wireless tech happenings.

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