Thursday, January 26, 2006

Local Business Support of Muni WiFi Is No Surprise

One under-reported aspect of municipal wireless is that cities’ initiatives, if planned and managed properly, can significantly impact area businesses, and not just those hosting Internet cafes.

In a survey reported in today’s Herald Sun, nearly 70% of responding downtown businesses “are interested in some form of a municipal wireless network the town might help create.” U of North Carolina researcher Shannon Schelin who conducted the survey with the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership said "That really did surprise me. I didn't expect a number quite that high."

We shouldn’t be surprised. Here’s what citywide affordable WiFi means to businesses.

Small businesses with 15 – 20 workers, and even larger workforces, who are mobile within a city will seriously consider mobile applications. Once they don’t have to spend $60- $80 for slow, sometimes spotty cellular data network services, but can get true high-speed wireless access, they can leverage mobile technology to compete more aggressively with larger companies. Application Service Providers (ASPs) with Web-hosted software will drive costs for mobilizing workers even lower.

Messenger services, companies that provide home and office delivery, repair and maintenance companies, professional service firms and contractors can reap the benefits of wireless dispatch, time tracking, group calendar management, etc.

Asset management will be more practical and affordable for businesses. Vehicle tracking, construction equipment security and remote monitoring can tap into this less expensive WiFi option. Firms with warehouses, manufacturing plants and shipping docks won’t have to build a complete WiFi or RFID infrastructure, just tap into the city network.

If cities deploy business portals over the network, such as Philly did with The Cloud from Pervasive Services, local retailers, museums and food establishments are some of the businesses that can see revenue increases. The Cloud lets them create content and special promos that are accessed by, or pushed out to, tourists and locals. The Cloud also can be integrated with festivals, concerts and other big-crowd events to drive customers into local businesses.

In the outlying areas, muni WiFi represents the best or only way for companies to get high speed Internet access and support a content-rich interactive e-commerce presence. For some home-based and small businesses in disadvantaged areas, the network is an affordable lifeline to potential customer who wouldn’t visit these neighborhoods. A caveat is that local government or some other entity provides the training often required so owners learn how to effectively use the Internet.

If cities and their partners properly market the network to companies, the potential for a change in how consumers buy is huge. With high speed WiFi, local merchants’ ability to use video and audio content to build or strengthen customer relationships makes financial sense. Enabling real-time interactivity and transactions with shoppers on the go boosts the bottom line.

And to address that line favored by the incumbents about no company being willing to trust a public network, consider this. Morrow County, Oregon relies on a 1000-square mile WiFi network with off-the-shelf security software to manage a myriad of monitoring and emergency response resources that keep tabs on the following.

1/3 third of the U.S.’ remaining stockpile of warfare materials, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a nuclear power station, a major east-west rail line, a natural gas plant and energy production and distribution facilities are all covered. The network is HIPAA-certified safe so that patient data can be wirelessly transmitted, and it’s FIPS 140-2 compliant. If Morrow County can feel secure in their use of a WiFi network, I’m sure business owners can be assured of a good night’s sleep while using their city’s network.

It’s safe to say that businesses, regardless of industry, are going to embrace municipal wireless, and be the better for it. As the article today concludes “Schelin said there weren't any clear factors, such as the age of the business or the ages of the clients the business targets, that matched up consistently with how the businesses felt about wireless. ‘People who believe wireless is important aren't just people catering to college students, which is a little different from what I expected to find.’


At 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found your blog through a link.
I have been working with 802.11 for awhile.

You articulate the issues clearly.

At 3:05 AM, Blogger zang said...

Nice Post
article rewrite


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