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Palm Left Bad Taste In Early Adopters Mouths

wiLeveraging the palm platform and wireless infrastructure has allowed 3Com to put together an excellent product and service with the Palm VII. Unfortunately, the per-kilobyte price model used by 3Com’s wireless partner, BellSouth, is way out of line.

Like most wireless services, 3Com and BellSouth have a usage-based pricing strategy with two levels: Basic service costs $9.99 per month for 50KB of data downloads, while a volume service plan costs $24.99 per month for 150KB of data downloads.

What doesn’t work about this is that most of the information and services that 3Com provides through the Palm.Net service, such as headline news, traffic updates and stock sales, are either free from multiple sources or worth paying for on a transactional basis.

So who should be paying for the infrastructure and connection time? Advertisers should be paying to supply information services such as news and traffic information, and for transaction-oriented services, such as stock trades, the fees should be assessed by the transaction. Ideally, the fee would stay the same, only 3Com and BellSouth get a cut of the action.

All you have to do is look at the user 3Com has targeted to see that advertising is the way to go. The Palm VII is intended for the highly mobile professional, the person who spends better than half his or her time out of the office. It’s my observation that most people who travel that much (and are interested in keeping up-to-date on news and trading stock at a moment’s notice) generally have money to spend.

These devices and services are all about targeting and capturing the peak marketing demographic. 3Com and BellSouth should be exploiting that opportunity, not their customers.

fmIf the advertising and transaction fee model doesn’t work out, the other way to sell the service would be based on connection time, as with cellular phones. It broadens the appeal of the product and puts the costs in terms the layman can understand. I’m still not sure how 50KB of data translates into the 150 “screens” described in the Palm VII product literature. How many e-mail messages would that be? How many traffic reports or movie listings?

It takes about 1fi minutes to get a movie listing using MovieFone. That costs 15 cents, figuring a dime-a-minute cellular rate. I couldn’t tell you how much finding that same listing would cost with the Palm VII based on the information 3Com has provided so far, but it better not be more.

The pricing problem won’t likely be as daunting for corporations using the Palm VII to give real-time query and response capabilities to a mobile field force. Right now, if a mobile sales agent wants to check a customer order, it is probably an expensive process for most companies. The call in to the office incurs the cost of the call, the cost of the sales agent sitting idle on hold for a couple of minutes and the cost of a call center worker performing the query.

With the Palm VII, at least the cost of the call center worker can be eliminated, and depending on the size of the transaction, the cost of the call could be reduced.


The Open Book Standard Didn’t Last

Adoption of Open Book standard, expected soon, likely to speed acceptance of devices, lower prices

obOne of Canada’s biggest cellular phone companies is getting into the book- selling business. But it’s not just any book. Beginning in the fall, Rogers Cantel Inc. will sell the SoftBook electronic book system in Canada, hoping businesses will want a portable, page-sized digital reader that’s less expensive and lighter than a laptop, but that can hold 1,500 pages of documents.

“We thought it was a pretty cool product that would open doors in corporate sales,” said Robert MacKenzie, Rogers’ vice-president of PCS and product development.

“We’ve had people say ‘Do this and this for me, I’ll buy the SoftBook and give you our wireless business.’

We think this product will start as a business tool but will become a great consumer product. It will be the ultimate personal digital assistant.

It’s the first Canadian distribution deal for one of the two U.S. electronic books on the market, which have been available over the Web for several months.

So far, most of the material available for electronic books is American. Canadian publishing house McClelland and Stewart Inc., however, has prepared five Canadian titles for the Rocket eBook system in anticipation of a major Canadian bookseller picking up sales rights here in the fall.

The SoftBook (US$599 from SoftBook Press Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif.) and the Rocket eBook (from NuvoMedia Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., list price $499, available through booksellers) are monochrome HTML-based devices. Both have software for converting electronic documents so they can be read on their systems.

Material is downloaded to the SoftBook by plugging it into a phone line. The Rocket eBook, which can hold about 4,000 pages, needs a PC to retrieve documents before being transferred to the reader.

Late this year, Everybook Inc.’s two-screen colour Everybook Dedicated Reader, a PDF-format device which will range from US$500 to US$2,000, depending on the version, will join the electronic book lineup.

The adoption of electronic books has been slow, in part because of the price. As a result, two American online booksellers cut the price of the Rocket eBook this month to US$399.

They won’t get near that price here yet, though. MacKenzie guessed Rogers will sell the SoftBook for $900.

Another move which might spur the acceptance of electronic books is the expected adoption of an Open eBook standard.

osNext month, members of a standards group, which includes all three manufacturers, Microsoft Corp. and several publishers, will vote on a draft specification they’ve been negotiating based on HTML and XML.

It will define methods for formatting and delivering content.

When a standard is decided upon, book, periodical and magazine publishers will have confidence that when they convert material they won’t be caught in a standards war, said Marcus Columbano, NuvoMedia’s director of marketing.

“It’s an insurance policy for a content provider,” said Kimberly Woodward, SoftBook’s director of enterprise marketing.

“So far, the majority of our sales have been to corporate customers who are using it to distribute operating procedures, database reports and technical manuals to their business partners.”

In Phoenix, the Arizona Republic has been testing SoftBook with 100 of its newspaper carriers, who need daily updates to their subscriber lists.

Usually it’s done on paper, with the carrier keeping records on cards. But since March, a test group has been downloading a new list to their electronc books nightly with additions and deletions, which of three publications subscribers will get the next morning and directions to each stop.

The pilot has been so successful that Joe Coleman, applications development manager for CNT Corp., the newspaper’s technology subsidiary, is confident all of the paper’s 1,700 carriers will be equipped with SoftBooks in three months.

MacKenzie can see municipalities equipping engineers and inspectors with electronic books to carry blueprints and reports, or service technicians carrying e-books instead of toting repair manuals.

Within 18 months, SoftBook will have a wireless modem capability, he predicted, which will expand its flexibility, as well as give it a closer link to Rogers’ cellular business.

He is also discussing the product’s potential uses with the Maclean Hunter Publishing Ltd. division of the Rogers empire, which puts out a range of trade, business and consumer publications.

“I can see the day where we bundle the SoftBook and wireless and we go after the medical profession, telling them they can get certain publications, medical information and personal applications.”

MacKenzie and others agreed that acceptance by the business sector will help spread popular acceptance of electronic books.


Bell’s Connectivity Hurt Other Providers


A recent fire in a Bell Canada central office cut off service in an area of downtown Toronto, but the effects were felt well outside the city boundaries.

One cellular service provider, Microcell Telecommunications Inc., lost communications between its switching centre in Toronto and about 30 of its cellular sites in places as far away as Barrie, which is about 100 kilometres north of Toronto.

Microcell leases lines from three companies – Bell Canada (which provides local service in Ontario and Quebec), AT&T Canada (which provides long distance service and recently bought Metronet Communications Inc., a competitive local exchange carrier) and cable service provider Shaw Communications – to connect its switching centre to its remote cellular sites.

The sites that Microcell lost represented about 15 per cent of the company’s sites in the Toronto area.

“They weren’t in one big clump,” said Anthony Schultz, vice-president of network planning and operations for Microcell Connexions, the company’s personal communications service (PCS) division. “They were scattered here and there.”

Clearnet Communications Inc. of Pickering, Ont. experienced an increase in calls (up 20 per cent from a typical Friday) despite the fact that it lost connections to some cellular sites.

“Some people said ‘My phone didn’t work where I was, but I walked a block away and got the next cell site over,’” said Mark Langton, Clearnet’s marketing director.

Most of Microcell’s disconnected sites were in rural areas where the peak demand times are during the rush hour.


The Bell service interruption lasted between 10 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. on July 16, and most service was restored by the following day.

It all started when a worker dropped a tool which caused a short circuit in an electrical panel at Bell’s central office on the western fringe of Toronto’s central business district.

Company officials believe the short circuit caused a fire, which in turn triggered the sprinkler system and prevented workers from turning on the emergency backup power.

One software project manager who works in the area and didn’t want his name used said his company could not make any calls or send e-mails to clients.

“As an engineer, I was surprised that Bell didn’t have a re-routing system set up,” he said.

“I was under the impression that if lines go down, that Bell is able to switch over service almost seamlessly, and it seemed like they weren’t able to do that.”

But an official at UUNet Canada Inc., a Toronto-based network service provider that relies on Bell, did not blame the company.

“It was simply somebody making a mistake and they did their best to get the service back up and running,” said company spokesman Richard Cantin. “It is one of those Murphy’s Law things.”

Although UUNet’s T1 network was not affected, any users that connected to the backbone through its central office would not have been able to get online.

The same went for PSINet Ltd., which, like UUNet, operates a T1 backbone network.

In the case of UUNet, however, the service outage cost the company over $20,000, Cantin said, because it has service level agreements (SLAs) with some of its customers.

In the SLA, UUNet promises to give users one free day of service for every hour of service outage – regardless of how the service was lost.

“We know we don’t control the world,” Cantin said, adding UUNet plans to continue offering SLAs.

The company plans to ask Bell for a refund for its local service, but that amount – which UUNet would not disclose publicly – will not be enough to compensate the firm for the amount that it will have to refund to customers with whom it has SLAs.

“I wouldn’t call it negligible,” Cantin said of the money lost. “(It’s) a huge chunk of dough.

“That’s chewing into the margin, not the revenue, and the margin in the Internet world is not a huge thing.”

Despite UUNet’s loss, Cantin said the service outage probably affected businesses more than it affected telecommunications firms.

“This morning I was at my chiropractor and their business literally shut down,” he said.

“They have nothing to do with communications, they have nothing to do with the Internet, but their phones weren’t working, the Interac system wasn’t working, so they couldn’t accept new bookings and they couldn’t get the people there to pay.”

Bell spokesperson Irene Shimoda said the Interac system was not shut down, but she added connections between some point of sale (POS) terminals in Toronto and the Interac system were down.


August 5th Mobile Party at the New District Hall

Mobile Monday is joining with other local tech groups for an evening of summer networking. Come and get your first look at the sleek new District Hall building in the Innovation District which will officially open in September.

This event is all about getting the various Boston mobile communities together to celebrate successes, share experiences, debate ideas, and meet new people.  We will have a great view of the harbor, appetizers and a cash bar to fuel discussions.

Date: Monday, August 5, 2013

Location: The new District Hall in the Innovation District (previously called the Boston Innovation Center)

Address: 75 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA

If you’re looking for a taxi, Hailo the taxi app is now in Boston and you can download and get $10 off your first Hailo ride with promo code MOMOBOSTON.

Time: 6 to 9 PM

Cost: Free

Register here.

Participating networking organizations include:
App Demo & Drinks
Boston Android
Boston C# Developers’ Group
Boston Mobile App Developers – iOS and Android
Boston New Technology Meetup Group
Drinks on Tap
Google Development Group – GDG Boston
HTML5 Boston
Mass Technology Leadership Council
MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge
The Capital Network
Women in Wireless Boston



Thanks to our sponsors for generously covering the costs of this event.





Interested in getting involved? Contact us at


Wireless Speeding Along Its Way

wsaiwTime is money. that’s never been more true than in today’s fast-twitch e-business world. For some organizations, however, time has always been more important even than money. For the New York Presbyterian Hospital Organ Preservation Unit, which procures and preserves human organs for transplant, a few minutes can be the difference between life and death. Once removed, organs remain vital for 6 to 24 hours. To cut down on time-consuming faxes and phone calls and to speed life-saving organs to patients, the hospital unit two months ago turned to a wireless Internet connection from GoAmerica Communications Corp. of Hackensack, N.J.

Now preservationists, working at a patient’s bedside or in a moving ambulance, use laptop PCs equipped with special modem cards and antennas to post digital pictures of organs and the organ’s vital statistics on a Web site operated by the International Society for Organ Preservation, in New York. On the site’s OrganView page, doctors learn of the availability of organs instantaneously.

“Fifty percent of our work is outside in the field, in transit or in other [places such as operating rooms],” said Ben O’Mar Arrington, who heads the organ preservation unit. “We don’t know if the [remote] areas are going to be ready for [Internet access]. By being mobile, and with a system we’re sure is going to work, it’s the best way to utilize the information and send it.”

As the Internet increasingly becomes their lifeblood, more and more organizations are beginning to look to wireless technology to allow employees such as traveling business executives, salespeople and field workers to log on from anywhere at any time.

But mobility is only part of the reason wireless Internet access is beginning to take off. So-called fixed wireless technologies such as Multichannel Multipoint Distribution System are emerging as viable alternatives for connecting offices and home workers to the Web at broadband speeds. Fixed wireless technologies are particularly attractive to small and midsize businesses. That’s because such companies can use wireless technologies to get high-speed Internet access for much less than the thousands of dollars a month it would cost them to lease a T-1 line. The technologies are also valuable as a way to gain high-speed access when DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable aren’t available. Despite lingering IT concerns about wireless technologies’ security, reliability and coverage, their adoption for Internet access is accelerating.

“The Internet is driving [wireless] adoption because of mobile workers,” said Roberta Wiggins, an analyst at Boston-based consultancy The Yankee Group Inc. “Data is becoming more a part of our business lives. We use the Internet so much as a resource tool, so mobile workers in the field need the same access to information.”

Buying sprees

Fueling wireless’s momentum, key vendors such as Microsoft Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Sprint Corp. and MCI WorldCom Inc. have begun to invest. For example, Microsoft last month acquired STNC Ltd., of the United Kingdom, a maker of wireless communications software for providing Internet access from mobile telephones. At the same time, MCI WorldCom and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures Inc., of Bellevue, Wash., are each investing $300 million into Metricom Inc., of Los Gatos, Calif., which will allow it to expand Metricom mobile wireless Ricochet service nationwide. And MCI and Sprint have recently gone on a wireless technology buying spree, acquiring broadband wireless providers.

wsVendor interest in wireless Internet access technologies doesn’t stop there. Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., and Qualcomm Inc., of San Diego, last year formed a joint venture called WirelessKnowledge LLC to develop wireless access from smart phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and handheld devices to Microsoft Exchange features such as e-mail, calendaring and contact lists. In February, Cisco Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif., and Motorola Inc., of Schaumburg, Ill., formed an alliance to develop Internet-based wireless networks. 3Com Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., and Aether Technologies International LLC, of Owings Mills, Md., announced in June a joint venture to create a wireless data service provider called Open Sky to bring Web, e-mail and corporate intranets to cell phones, pagers and handhelds.

3Com’s Palm VII, which incorporates wireless Internet access, has motivated e-businesses to begin developing content and services for mobile users. For example, Online securities brokers Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., of San Francisco, and Fidelity Investments, of Boston, have announced plans to roll out Web-based trading sites for PDA-equipped mobile investors.

For IT managers interested in adopting wireless data technologies, the arrival of more players and more robust services cannot come soon enough. For many mobile wireless Internet users, transmission speeds remain relatively slow. New York Presbyterian users, for example, typically connect at about 19K bps. And, today, the wireless connection to the Web is not always reliable.

But the benefits of being mobile and no longer having to worry about finding a landline to plug into outweigh the slower speeds and occasional interruptions, he said. The cost also fits Arrington’s budget. The GoAmerica service costs $59 a month, and the modem cards cost $400 each. New York Presbyterian currently has four wireless laptops.

Speeding up

Connection speeds for mobile Internet service are poised to increase in the next few months and years. Cellular and personal communications services carriers such as AT&T Wireless Services Inc., Bell Atlantic Mobile and GTE Corp.’s GTE Wireless subsidiary are moving to increase wireless network data speeds from today’s typical 14.4K bps and lower to 384K bps over the next three to five years. Speeds could reach 64K bps in the next year, said Yankee’s Wiggins.

Meanwhile, Metricom is revamping its proprietary network that runs its Ricochet service. Now available at 28.8K bps in the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, Ricochet is scheduled to reach 128K-bps service by the middle of next year in 12 markets.

Even with a 28.8K-bps connection, Harold Mann is discovering a new level of personal freedom in using the Ricochet service. Mann is one of three wireless Internet users at Mann Consulting, a multimedia company in San Francisco.

“At first I was not convinced why I needed to have [wireless Internet access],” Mann said. “[But] it’s the self-reliance; not having to depend on anyone else for a Net connection.”

Despite his initial skepticism, Mann now views the wireless connection on his Apple Macintosh PowerBook G3 as a crucial productivity tool. Mann recalled a situation when he was at a remote California site for the filming of the movie “Deep Impact.” The producers were missing an important graphic, but no one had access to a phone line. Mann clamped on his Ricochet modem, the antenna protruding atop his laptop, and downloaded the image.

Ricochet’s biggest limitation, other than its speed, is its coverage, Mann said. But Metricom is planning to expand service from three to 46 metropolitan markets by mid-2001.

And while providers of mobile wireless Internet access push for higher speeds, fixed services are already connecting users at speeds rivaling T-1 lines, DSL and cable, often for a lot less money. Fixed wireless services are often termed “DSL in the sky” or “wireless cable.” Deployments so far, however, have been mostly only regional.

Where fixed wireless Internet access is available, some IT managers have turned to it as an alternative to the high cost of a T-1 line or in lieu of DSL or cable, which often are not available in their locations. Take Yack Inc., of Emeryville, Calif. When the Web guide to Internet events and chats moved to its new office six months ago, chief technology officer Jasbir Singh needed a way to provide the then six employees with high-speed Internet access, but he couldn’t afford $2,000 to $3,500 for a T-1 connection. Singh tried to get DSL, but both the local phone company, Pacific Bell, and competitor Concentric Network Corp., of San Jose, Calif., told him that Yack was located too far from a central office to use the distance-sensitive service. But Concentric offered a solution: a wireless service it provides through ISP Wavepath, of Mountain View, Calif.,that uses a small dish placed on top of the user’s building to provide downstream service at T-1 speeds (1.54M bps) and upstream at 512K bps, Singh said. The cost: not thousands of dollars, but $499 a month. Singh was sold.

Today, the wireless connection continues to be part of Yack’s Internet-connection strategy. But the company two months ago also installed a dedicated T-1 line connecting it to one of its Web-site hosts. As Yack has grown–it now has about 30 employees–it has become able to afford the T-1 connection that Singh sees as more reliable. The wireless connection has evolved into a redundant, high-speed backup rather than the primary Internet connection, Singh said.

Reinforcing the role of fixed wireless as supplemental to T-1 are some lingering limitations in the technology.

But for Scripps Howard Broadcasting’s WXYZ-TV, of Southfield, Mich., a combination of Internet connections–including fixed wireless–provided the best way to stream live news broadcasts over the Web. When station officials began researching options for the project about a year ago, they realized they needed high-capacity bandwidth. A T-1 line seemed like the obvious solution, but Christa Reckhorn, the ABC Inc. affiliate’s director of new media, was concerned about spiking demand.

That’s where SpeedChoice fits in. The wireless Internet service from People’s Choice TV Corp., of Shelton, Conn., provides the station with a 10M-bps downstream connection, more than enough to keep reporters and assignment editors hooked into the Internet to find last-minute news sources. That keeps most of the T-1 connection’s bandwidth free to send a smooth stream of video during four daily newscasts to a hosted server in Seattle, Reckhorn said.

“There’s really no other way we could have done it,” she said. “You’re limited to the speed of a T-1, and we couldn’t afford higher bandwidth. [But] wireless allows you to add bandwidth at the same cost.”