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Convenient, Durable, and Secure, Mobile Technology is at Hand

Here’s a question:

How many text messages could just one wireless carrier – say, Verizon Wireless – record in a three-month period?

The answer: 17.7 billion.

That was how many fast-flying fingers sent or replied to a text-based message from their Verizon cell phones during the company’s fourth quarter last year, and it’s just one example of the preponderance of mobile access and connectivity that is becoming commonplace among cell phone and laptop users across the country.

And according to Mike Murphy, public relations manager for Verizon Wireless’ New England region, that’s nearly everyone.

“Certainly, one trend that we are seeing is the rise in data usage of our subscribers,” he said. “Up to half of our subscriber base uses data – about 35 million customers – and that proves phones are not for voice anymore.”

Murphy said Verizon, like all major cellular and wireless carriers, continues to roll out new products that can take advantage of improving connectivity and ease in data transfer, including nine PDAs and about six different wireless access cards that plug into a laptop.

“If you look at people’s ability to move files around, it’s clear that the convenience and the efficiency are there,” said Murphy. “Now, upload speeds are anywhere from 600 to 1.4 kilobytes per second – that means a one MB picture, or a Powerpoint file, for instance, will download in about eight seconds and upload in 13. Speed relates to efficiency, and now more folks can take advantage of it.”

Murphy added that, from year to year, the growth is a result of continued expansion of broadband access and other connectivity options, such as EVDO – short for Evolution Data Only, or Evolution Data Optimized.

In short, EVDO provides fast wireless broadband Internet service directly to a laptop without the need for a ‘wireless hot spot,’ or permanent access within a home, business, or public venue.

“As we expand high-speed networks into more markets, we can offer more of these services … and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

It’s a world in which wireless connectivity affords the ability to access people, files, or information from virtually anywhere. What’s more, the processes are more convenient, the networks more secure, and the hardware more durable, in response to increasingly constant use.

From Cops to Coffee Shops

Jason Turcotte, owner and president of Turcotte Data and Design in Belchertown, specializes in network implementation, including on the mobile front.

Turcotte works extensively with the law enforcement community, and has an interesting perspective on the mobile technology boom. He’s actually been working with many of the popular applications for some time, and says that in some ways, police departments have been the pioneers with regard to several trends.

“They were the ones who started the whole trend of mobile laptops and wireless access,” he said, referencing the units present in most police cruisers. “They’ve been using that technology for years, and now it’s only getting more robust.”

Turcotte said many other businesses are beginning to see the benefits of such technology, once reserved for specific vocations. He said his own business is getting busier, and he’s adding a greater number of private clients each month.

“What I’m trying to get other businesses to understand is that they can have the same technology,” he said, noting that as the gap between computer and cellular technology narrows, having information at one’s fingertips anytime and anywhere is becoming less a luxury than it is a necessity.

“All major cellular carriers have wireless data cards available for laptops, and programs to access a computer file through a phone. As long as there is a cellular signal, we can be anywhere we need to be, with all the information we need.”

Turcotte went on to add that as technology improves, wireless access is becoming vital to businesses of all sizes, in order to keep pace with the competition.

“We’re hearing a lot about remote desktop capability and VPN (virtual private network) access to files on a company’s server,” he said. “It goes back to that same idea of being able to locate files from anywhere.

“There is an initial investment in hardware to take into account, but now more than ever that investment is going to save businesses, especially small businesses, money overall.”

Many companies have already acknowledged that reality, and have put new wireless and remote access systems into place as part of their own operations.
Steve Holt, director of sales and marketing at Uplinc in West Springfield, said wireless hot spots are popping up everywhere – once reserved for airports or hotels, now wireless users can network in other locales, such as doctor’s offices, and the service is being offered increasingly as an amenity in such places.

“Overall, there’s just a need for wireless connectivity developing,” he said. “The demand is hitting Western Mass. just like everywhere else, and as the need increases, we will probably see even more devices related to mobile computing.”

Holt said Uplinc techs are all traveling with wireless broadband cards now, to get access to information such as directions to their service calls, or even to submit time cards.

“It makes them more productive,” he said. “They’re out doing their jobs instead of checking back in the office each day to do so-called ‘busy work.’”

He added that tablets – small units with computer functions and connectivity options, as well as the added convenience of note-taking ability directly on the screen with a stylus – are also being used at Uplinc, and within many of the businesses the company serves.

“They’re already big in health care, but we’re seeing them elsewhere,” he said. “They fit in a coat pocket, and can eliminate the need for a larger computer or even a day planner. Everything happens in one spot.”

A Sense of Security

However, with new technology coming at businesses of all sizes fast and furious, security issues are moving to the forefront with equal speed, as owners and managers scramble to stay ahead of the learning curve.

Many tablets, for instance, now come equipped with thumbprint readers for added security. But in general terms, Holt said his company is seeing growing interest in mobile security devices and applications across the board.

“We have a product called the TZ190, made by SonicWall, a manufacturer that offers spam filter and firewall appliances,” he began, noting that Uplinc is a re-seller of the product. “It’s already being used by some Western Mass. businesses, and it’s a great fit for them because it offers a wireless connection as well as the added security.”

Holt explained that the TZ190, which retails for about $500, is the size of a paperback book and accommodates a wireless access card, normally plugged into a laptop for access to additional computers or the Internet.

In this case, the unit allows for a secure wireless environment across a larger area, such as at a construction site, or within a company’s branch office, if business class access is not already available.

“It sits on your desk, you plug a wireless card into it, and boom, you have wireless across a job site,” said Holt. “It offers broadband connectivity via a high-speed wireless network, such as Verizon, Cingular, or Sprint … and that opens up a world of opportunities.”

Rough and Tumble

The product is also an example of the increased number of offerings geared toward various businesses and lifestyles.

Murphy said that with convenience and security must also come added durability and ease of use, as wireless users are now taking their phones and laptops just about everywhere.

In March, for instance, he said a new line of handsets were introduced by Verizon, which included a number of changes and improvements to accommodate increased use.

“If you look at our product offerings five years ago, you’d be able to count about 12 handsets,” he said. “Now, we have 40 to 50 available at one time. Many have QWERTY keyboards, to make text messaging and E-mailing easier.”

Murphy said one new model in particular, the G’zOne, is getting a lot of attention from outdoor workers such as builders, as well as sports enthusiasts. It’s water, dust, shock, and wind resistant, with a full complement of wireless features.

“It can do anything and perform in tough conditions,” he said, “and it speaks to how many people are dependent on the data in, and accessible from, their handsets.

“Folks need to feel safe,” he concluded.

Indeed, with data – and billions of text messages – being exchanged and the number only growing, the question is not how will mobile technology become as widely used as the television or phone. Rather, the question is when – and the answer does not seem so far off.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]