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The Green Sheet Online Edition

August 25, 2008 • Issue 08:08:02

Bold new mode in modems

By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC

There are as many styles of selling in our industry as there are merchant level salespeople. Whether we call our business merchant services, value-added solutions or recurring revenue platforms, we share a common denominator: We depend on high-speed modems to perform our work.

Just as we have had to adapt to changes in our industry that affect our styles of selling, our modem technology has been changing to keep up with advances in global communications.

Ten years ago, the dial modem was the predominant vehicle for processing credit card transactions. Terminal manufacturers competed in the high-speed modem space, and white papers were written about modems.

Transaction speed depended not just on a modem's baud rate, but also in its ability to sync up with a receiving modem.

Dial slowdown

Today, when merchants complain about batch and transaction wait time and time-out messages on dial terminals, it's usually because the terminal's modem is not able to "train down" to match the baud rate of the receiving modem. Nine times out of 10 these problems can be solved by adjusting the terminal's modem speed.

Here are some other factors that can slow down a dial terminal:

  • Sharing a phone line: We've all been told to encourage our customers to provide dedicated phone lines for their terminals, but not every merchant wants the expense of an additional phone line. If a terminal on a shared phone line is active throughout the day, credit card transactions will be competing with other calls or faxes. This may significantly slow down the speed of a merchant's business.

  • Old wiring: Dial is an older technology, dependent on miles of cabling that may become frayed or substandard. It's always a good idea to plug a phone into a merchant's phone jack to test for a dial tone, making sure the line is active. But this is no guarantee that there won't be problems later on due to faulty wiring that can't be seen.

  • Old terminal: Modem failures are more common in older devices and in most cases are not worth repairing. In addition to their outdated technology, legacy machines do not always meet industry regulations and have little to offer other than their low prices.

    If you recommend an older device for a merchant's countertop and it fails, not only is it not a bargain for the merchant, but your resulting loss of credibility may also end up costing you the account.

  • Old infrastructure: Some older neighborhoods with legacy switching systems may be subject to dial tone outages or excessive static on the line. Our help desks receive calls every day from merchants who have phone line issues.

    Many of these calls come from merchants who may not recognize that the terminal's problem is due to a phone line malfunction.

    When phone service providers are unable to correct problems remotely, they schedule on-site service calls with certified repair technicians, resulting in more downtime for merchants.

Protocol update

Let's face it: Downtime is expensive. Power failures and phone line issues can result in lost sales and time wasted on troubleshooting. The best way to protect merchants from the pitfalls of older dial infrastructure is by introducing them to newer electronic processing technology.

Today's merchants can securely process credit card transactions using an array of proven and affordable communication protocols. Cellular, Wi-Fi or Internet protocol- (IP) enabled technologies are so much a part of our lives and our mainstream merchant populations that any of them can be used as a backup or alternative to dial.

Here's a closer look at some of the new improved modem technology:

    Leveraged dial and IP-enabled solutions

    New devices that sport more than one kind of modem represent a paradigm shift in the design of transaction processing hardware. Finally, it's possible to offer peace of mind to your merchant customers by delivering solutions that have built-in redundancy.

    Why would business owners want to put their trust in any one system, when they can have a solution that has the smarts to switch to a secondary form of communication when the primary system fails?

    We call these newer devices "dual comm" because they are built with dual communication capability. They can seamlessly switch from dial to Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)/IP, using built-in phone cable and Ethernet cable ports. Many are designed to automatically "fail-over" when one protocol shuts down.

    Adoption of TCP/IP-enabled solutions is becoming commonplace in the merchant community. Merchants who use broadband at their business locations can add credit card devices by using Wi-Fi or Ethernet cabling. In addition to needing an Internet service provider and high-speed Ethernet router, it's best to have each device preconfigured by the ISO or processor.

    Check with your processor for a list of approved commercial grade routers. For complex installations involving multiple devices or peripherals, consider using a third party specialized service to conduct an on-site inspection and install the equipment. IP-enabled systems are fast and secure, processing encrypted transactions in two to four seconds, and they are easy to maintain and operate.

    Wireless devices

    Just as millions of consumers have switched to cellular phone service at home, our merchant community has embraced the ease and elegance of wireless devices. Cellular coverage and terminal battery life have improved on most models. In addition to portable wireless devices, merchants can use smart phones with Bluetooth card swipe peripherals.

    Additionally, the phenomenon of countertop wireless has been gaining widespread acceptance. Wireless coverage plans are competitive with traditional land line plans. A stationary countertop wireless device can be cost-effective for a merchant, while freeing up the phone for business use or eliminating the need for a secondary phone line.

    Large retailers will sometimes use a mix of dial, IP-enabled and wireless communications within a store, particularly when they use a fleet of delivery trucks or want to process credit cards at drive-up customer service areas.

    Virtual terminals

    MO/TO, low-volume or start-up businesses that use computers may not require credit card terminals. A simple virtual terminal application that works on a PC will give them all the functionality they need in order to process credit cards.

    Virtual terminal applications are also good back-up systems for merchants who use traditional credit card terminals.

    Some of these applications feature enhanced reporting and can be imported into a merchant's accounting software. Most virtual terminal applications are compatible with card reader peripherals, for those merchants who process card-present transactions. Check with your processor for a list of compatible hardware peripherals.

No matter how you describe your particular brand of credit card processing, it's the technology that will be doing the actual work. High speed, redundant systems will keep you and your merchants prospering long after the sale is done. end of article

Dale S. Laszig has a varied background in sales for First Data Corp., Hypercom Corp. and VeriFone. Her dedication to technology, writing and graphic design led to the formation of DSL Direct LLC, a marketing services company geared toward payment professionals. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or dale@dsldirectllc.com.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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