DemoMobile showcases new enterprise systems, technologies

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- A sleek device that offers walkie-talkie functionality over wireless LANs, technology that promises to boost throughput on cellular networks from kilobits to megabits per second and a system that can automatically forward voice mails from an enterprise phone network to mobile users were all highlighted at the annual IDG Executive Forum Conference here yesterday.

The conference showcased emerging mobile technologies, including a voice over IP communications system from Vocera Communications Inc. in Cupertino, Calif. Vocera demonstrated the system, which incorporates smart walkie-talkie functionality into enterprise wireless LANs through a sleek, electronic badge attached to a strap that users wear around the neck. The badge incorporates a microphone, speaker and tiny 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, wireless LAN transceiver operating in the 2.4-GHz band.

Brent Lang, vice president of marketing at Vocera, said users simply have to speak the name of the person they want to contact, and server-side voice-recognition software converts that into text, performs a directory search and then completes the call over the same network used to carry enterprise data.

The technology is aimed at the communications needs of "big-box" retailers that currently rely on single-channel walkie-talkies that blast the same message to all workers equipped with the radios, Lang said. The Vocera system, by contrast, zeroes in on connecting the right users -- or groups of users. Lang said Vocera has already received a purchase order from one such retailer, but he declined to identify the company.

Flarion Technologies Inc. in Bedminster, N.J., which during the past year has demonstrated its use of technology to boost data throughput on cellular networks from 40-60K bit/sec. to 1.5M bit/sec., believes it is close enough to signing a carrier deal to begin hardware production.

The technology is known as orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, and according to Peter Carson, Flarion's vice president for business development and marketing, the company has signed a contract with Flextronics Corp. in Singapore to start production of carrier and user hardware, including PC cards. Carson said Flarion expects a carrier agreement close to the time Flextronics begins production in December.

Austin-based Traq-wireless introduced its VoiceMailAlert system, which is designed to save enterprise mobile workers from wasting cellular airtime minutes calling their internal voice-mail systems. According to Gregory Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing at Traq-wireless, the company has designed software that automatically forwards the details of phone calls received on an enterprise voice mail system as a Short Message Service text message to mobile workers.

Doing so can quickly save money in enterprises with thousands of phones because Traq-wireless -- which manages cellular phones for customers such as BNSF Corp. -- has determined that 10% of all mobile calls made by enterprise mobile workers are to check voice mail, Fitzgerald said. The traq-wireless VoiceMailAlert system not only provides the name and number of the caller, but also the physical address based internal and external directories.

If Jeffrey Glass, CEO of m-Qube Inc. in Boston, has his way, those alerts will soon be competing with ads and electronic coupons sent to cell phone users. But, Glass said in an interview, the 137 million U.S. cell phone users don't have to worry about getting bombarded by SMS come-ons and coupons. M-Qube has built a strictly "opt-in" model, which requires a user to dial a free 800 number to receive the coupon.

The company launched its first pilot at the CambridgeSide Galleria mall in Cambridge, Mass., yesterday in partnership with Cingular Wireless in Atlanta. Glass believes it will serve as a model for direct marketing, wireless style.

The mall and some of its stores have posted m-Qube's dial-in number for shoppers to see. Those who dial the number receive an instant 10%-off coupon for a nearby store. Glass believes this kind of electronic couponing makes much more sense than that used by grocery stores, which issue coupons at checkout.

"Who wants a coupon when they have finished shopping?" Glass said.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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