Wireless LANs reach next round

Wireless expansion plans in universities and workplaces

Dual-Mode phones nourish food distributor's sales

At Anthony Marano, sales personnel serve a dual role as buyers of the fruit and produce it distributes. And they now use dual-mode mobile phones, which work on both a wireless LAN inside the company's Chicago facility and a Cingular Wireless cellular network outside the building.

The phones and the network underpinnings for the dual-mode technology have been used in full production mode by about 50 employees for the past 18 months, said Chris Nowak, Marano's IT director. The wireless system is based on trial technology from three vendors: phone maker Motorola; Avaya, which supplied switching equipment; and Proxim Wireless, which provided the wireless access points and related software.

Workers equipped with the phones can walk around Marano's 400,000-square-foot warehouse to check on produce shipments and connect to the company's WLAN through 72 access points. If they need to go outside, they can continue talking over the cellular network, according to Nowak.

"No one wants to charge two batteries, have two voice passwords, two voice mail systems and two telephone numbers," he said.

The handoff between the networks is "just an insignificant blip," Nowak said. And, he claimed, "the sound quality is better than on desk phones."

Marano's sales have increased 15% since the dual-mode technology was deployed, without any increase in the number of sales workers, Nowak said. He cited the addition of the phones as the main reason for the sales growth.

But there is room for improvement in the handset, Nowak added. He said a better display could enable workers to use their phones to view photo­graphs of produce being offered for sale by growers. Currently, growers can send images, but buyers must go to a PC to look at the pictures.

Also, Nowak said he could double the number of users if the price of the dual-mode phones dropped substantially below the current cost of US$600 per handset.

Kevin Goulet, director of product management at Motorola's enterprise mobility solutions group, wouldn't disclose any details about the new dual-mode handset that the company is developing. But Goulet said he thinks Nowak will be happy with the phone's price and expanded capabilities.

Nowak said he expects dual-mode technology to grow only more valuable for business users. "Everyone is going to have this technology," he said. "We're doing great on it, and we're not even a technology company. We just sell fruits and vegetables. If we figured it out, others can."

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