3G wireless broadband service comes to small businesses

After years of waiting, you can now get online anywhere – for cheap

Editor’s Note: Technology Partners is a regular column written by members of the  Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance.

Think 3G wireless broadband service is a myth? The launch of Verizon’s new BroadbandAccess service makes it a reality. Based on EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) technology, the third-generation cellular service provides download speeds of  300K to 500K bit/sec, bursting up to 2M bit/sec. Service requires Verizon’s Wireless PC 5220 card, from Sierra Wireless, and costs $79.99 per month for unlimited use. The card costs about $250, but Verizon offers a $150 rebate. 

Hot on Verizon’s heels is AT&T, which has begun a pilot program of its 3G service, also priced at $79.99. Sprint is working overtime to finish its network, and other providers to watch include Monet Mobile, IPWireless and Maui Sky Fiber.

Despite 3G’s speed and convenience, there are drawbacks. With Verizon, we experienced some latency —pages hesitate a bit before loading. While that’s not a problem for applications and streaming media, it can frustrate efforts to videoconference.

Aside from that, the major challenge for users coverage. Currently, Verizon serves 16 metro areas and eight airports. With price being equal, small businesses should undertake a detailed review of each provider’s coverage area before signing up.

Businesses that expect to open multiple accounts should work to establish a relationship with an account manager at their service provider. Before ordering the service, ask about the coverage area to establish your expectations. Keep the account manager’s name and number handy. Service providers will be eager to hold onto their accounts and keep new users happy. Just as dropped mobile phone calls can result in service credits, so can problems with EV-DO coverage earn you free service with a call to the right account rep.

So is broadband access really worth $80 per month per user? Or is it just another high-tech toy? For any employee who spends a significant amount of time on the road, in clients’ offices or at trade shows, the answer is yes. Benefits include:

  • Enhanced productivity. Imagine being able to access e-mail and corporate intranet from anywhere. No more late-night stops at Starbucks, no more eight-hour delays before sending e-mail responses, no more paying $10 or more per day to access broadband service at hotels and airports.

  • Better client relationships. Too often, proposals and presentations prompt clients to ask unexpected questions. If the office is within the coverage area, you could provide one. Also, employees who work on site periodically would not be restricted in their Internet access or hampered by lack of a corporate sign-on.

  • Access to technical information. From engineers to appliance repairman, many employees need to access tech information and service manuals. Yet, few small businesses can afford to equip their entire mobile workforce with high-memory laptops needed too accommodate a substantial collection of these large documents. With 3G service, you can use even a basic laptop to connect to a corporate intranet, where the most current technical documents can be browsed.

It happens with every technology. Wait a few years – or even months – and you can get it much cheaper. Plus, by then, all of the bugs will be worked out.

Not this time. The large communications companies building out these expensive 3G networks need to get users on board – now. Sure, their monthly rates may drop over time. But start-up costs are negligible. 

Perhaps most importantly, the whiz-bang factor and added productivity can make any small businessperson look like they’re backed by a Fortune 500 company. Instant access to the company network, applications, cost estimates, invoices and the like will impress clients and alleviate any concerns about working with a small company.

Sharp is vice president of sales at ITSPA.

Learn more about this topic

The new wireless

Two of the latest plans for wireless data - the IEEE's Wi-Max and cellular's EV-DO - promise high speed and ubiquitous access, but users remain wary.

Network World, 09/27/04

EV-DO lights up mobile data

Network World, 08/02/04

Wireless data service options explode

Network World, 04/19/04

Nextel tests wireless broadband waters

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