BY NOW YOU PROBABLY HAVE HEARD ABOUT THE INCREASED VALUE of selling wireless Point-of-Sale (POS)
solutions - quick installations, faster than a speeding bullet transaction times, new market opportunities, or new
services to existing customers. You have heard all these things, so I am not going to repeat them here.
Additionally, you have been inundated with terms and terminology on wireless networks - Bluetooth,
WAP, 3G, packet data, circuit switched, CDMA, TDMA, GSM, analog, digital, etc.
What you are facing is that your present customers are looking to you to come up with a solution
to expand their points of purchase. Additionally, you and your sales force can see new customers right at your
doorstep - you'd like nothing more than to be the person to deliver a solution that gives them what they need.
But, you can't quite make up your mind on what to give them. The last thing you want is to do is introduce a new
solution to a new client only to have it fail miserably during a "pilot" or "trial." The only thing worse is to
finally be in a position to solve a problem for your most important customer and have it backfire.
If that describes your dilemma please read on.
What you might be wondering is, "How do I make the right decision on solution provider, terminal,
and wireless network carrier?" These, after all, are three main components in your wireless solution decision.
Each component is very important and should be considered equally in your decision making process. My intent is
to give you enough information so you can ask the right questions, and therefore make the decision for yourself
and your customers.
Why You Have to Do Your Homework
When you made your decision on what terminals you would market in a dial-up environment, you
probably based it on some combination of price, delivery, quality and service. However, you more than likely did
not decide on which phone company to use (if only you could). Additionally, you didn't sit there crossing your
fingers, with a little sweat beading at your upper lip, as your customer made the first swipe of their new terminal.
Maybe it didn't work, but you were sure that it would, and you knew what to do if it didn't.
Unfortunately, you are probably not in the same comfort zone in a wireless POS environment.
You are forced to make new decisions - ones that you may not have enough information to make. The main reason is
that no wireless network today can offer coverage everywhere, all the time. Due to the nature of RF (radio
frequency) one can only predict coverage in any place, at any time. Therefore, much more work is involved in
your decision making process. It takes the right combination of solution provider, terminal and network carrier
to make sure that you and your customer are satisfied with the terminal's performance.
So, back to the task at hand - the right decision. First we'll look at the solution provider,
work our way through the terminal, and finish off with wireless carriers.
The Solution Provider
The Solution Provider's main function is to provide the "gateway" or "bridge" between the POS
terminal and the processor. Most will offer the ability to process data from multiple-manufacturers' terminals,
over multiple wireless networks, through to multiple processors. You no doubt, over the past several years, have
seen the emergence of these providers. Their development has been, and will be, a critical link in the growth of
the market. You will see more of them emerging this year as the terminal will be asked to provide additional
information to the merchant and their customer, not only with better reporting capabilities but other valuable,
Each will have the ability for you to look at and turn the data into information via their host
site. How they handle the tactical issues as they arise will determine your long-term success. Here are some basic
fact-finding questions that you may want to include in your search:
How long have they been a "wireless" gateway provider? Experience is the best teacher in a RF
environment. They should have a working knowledge of each of the network carriers that they are partnered with. If
they held a product training, kick-off, or sales training event, could they do a satisfactory job in making you
and your sales people comfortable selling their wireless product solution? They should be in a position to help
you with trials or pilots - even so far as to bring the terminal and network partner in to assist.
Do they offer an end-to-end solution? End-to-end means just that - all the way from the terminal,
to the carrier, to their gateway, through to the processor and back. You will be far better off working with one
that "owns" the end-to-end solution then one that doesn't. When you have an issue they should be your first point
of contact and the one responsible for its resolution.
How is their Help Desk structured? And, what services does it offer? Your company may handle
first level Help Desk. However, the solution provider should have established procedures to train your Help Desk,
and for problem escalation all the way through the communication stream. It may not be their job to know all the
answers to issues as they arise, but it is their job to get those answers for you.
What are their registration and activation procedures? They should have a system to accommodate
your business environment.
How is their network structured and managed? One vital link is the ability of the terminal to
communicate to the network's base station (or tower). That is the only "wireless" part of transaction's journey.
Depending on network type, and base station location, that can be from a few feet to over 20 miles. The rest of
the journey is hardened (some type of wired configuration). How the solution provider's gateway is "linked," or
connected, from the carrier to the processor can be equally as important. How they are connected and managed can
play an important role in how fast a transaction is made, or if it's made at all. These questions should be answered
to your satisfaction.
Do they have established procedures for development? This is important for terminal integration,
host development and application development. Without solid plans and processes you will be waiting forever for
the next terminal, those additional host features or additional network coverage.
Every terminal has its own set of features that you can choose from. You can decide for yourself
the ones you and your customer like. Furthermore, since the solution provider you have chosen offers multiple
manufacturers' terminals, you can pick the best one for a specific application. There are a few features that you
might want to consider to avoid the "gotcha" before you march off to battle.
Store and Forward - you may have situations where your customer may be out of network coverage
for a short period of time. Either they have gone outside the coverage area or they may have found themselves in
an unfriendly RF environment. The ability of the terminal to process the transaction and then forward it on for
authorization when the client is back in coverage may prove a key to a satisfied customer.
Dial Line Port - this could prove important for downloading terminal applications. You really
don't want to do this wirelessly, as it can prove both costly and time consuming. You should inquire as to how
upgrades are handled.
Sales and Support - like the solution provider, the terminal manufacturer should have a
knowledgeable sales force. They should have a solid working relationship with the other partners.
Product Quality - just as in a dial-line environment, good, consistent manufacturing methods
are needed for a consis-tent performance with a product. Knowing the manufac-turer's processes and quality
assurance procedures are very important.
You will no doubt see additional terminal choices from the main players in the market but also
from new terminal vendors. This is especially true as you entertain the idea of branching out from the traditional
transaction based processing and into additional value-added applications.
Since you have chosen to work with a solution provider you now have the ability to opt for a
different network depending on where your customer is located. But you more than likely will be selling or
leasing them a terminal, and can't just randomly plop a different modem in a terminal if you made the wrong choice.
Additionally, since RF coverage is a predictive science, how can you be 100% sure that you will have coverage at a
particular spot 100% of the time? Well, unfortunately, the truth is you can't! However, if you do your homework
you can pick the right network and your customer will be satisfied.
Here is what your research might include:
- Network History: Every wireless network was built for a specific purpose - whether it was a
voice network that decided to add data or a data network built primarily to fulfill a specific
customer or application. This is a key factor as to where the network was "built out" and what
technologies were implemented to develop it. Finding out that information will provide you
with some insight on whether or not that particular network warrants further investigation.
- Target Markets: Networks, like everything, must continue to grow. In order to accomplish this
they more than likely will be expanding their target markets. The population centers of these
targeted markets help the network determine where to put future base stations.
- Current Customers: Taking note of the network's current customer base will give some insight
on the reliability of the network. If several large customers rely on a particular network for
their mission critical communication, it should give an accurate measure of its performance.
- Certification Procedures: Just like a processor, a network should have device and application
procedures for both the terminal manufacturer and solution provider. Without quantifiable
guidelines, a terminal may be under or over powered; and its ability to transmit or receive
will be affected. What may look like no coverage, could actually be a problem caused by the
terminal. Either way, you look bad and your customer suffers. Additionally, the solution
provider's application should also have some guidelines to follow. This is critical when
connectivity is interrupted from the gateway to either the terminal, the network or the
- Network Management: A big key to coverage is availability. Availability is hindered when a
base station (or tower) is down. Since all base stations are outside, they are subject to
weather conditions like everything else. The ability of a network to monitor every one of
its base stations real-time and have implementation plans to restore operation will determine
how long it will take to repair. Network management could also include capacity management.
Systematic capacity monitoring is necessary to ensure that your transactions go through
- Coverage: Coverage is the essence of the Network Carrier. As you read earlier, wireless
network coverage is a prediction not a determination. Most carriers will offer for you to
view their prediction of coverage on their website, or in some type of zip code format.
One should take into account several factors as they relate to coverage from a carrier:
- 1) Availability - does the carrier have a guarantee on their network availability? That is, do they put a
percentage guarantee on the amount of uptime on the network? Without one you can have coverage one day and
not the next. As mentioned earlier, how the network is managed will help determine its availability.
- 2) Coverage Maps - when you are viewing the coverage map of a particular carrier, what is the probability of
the coverage footprint (contour). This could greatly alter the size of the contour you are viewing. If the
probability contour is 70% the footprint will be significantly larger than one that is based on 90%. It
would appear that the one based on 70% coverage has more coverage when it really doesn't. If in-building
coverage is important to you or your customer, look for an additional contour for predictive in-building
coverage. Additionally, look for any guarantees of coverage and understand how the guarantees are based.
Success in selling wireless POS solutions is dependent on your selecting the best solution
provider, terminal, and wireless network for you and your customer. Choose them wisely and you can indeed sell
the dream and skip the nightmare. Remember, as in the dial-line environment, nothing is perfect. How your solution
provider, terminal manufacturer and network carrier handle the issues as they arise will also help determine your
success. Please do your research to minimize your potential issues and you will enjoy much success in this growing