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Street SmartsSM:
MLS Questions About Wireless Answered

By Kathy Harper

Wireless is a relatively new solution for the POS, and it often brings more questions than answers for merchant level salespeople (MLSs). One question leads to another ... and that question leads to yet another. For instance, members of GS Online's MLS Forum recently posted the following questions:

"My region does not have home-area coverage for Cingular, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or any other cellular company that handles the signal for any wireless terminal. I do, however, have [general packet radio service] GPRS coverage in my region. Would my potential merchants then run into extra airtime charges by not being in a home coverage area?"
- SCStevens

"Does the GPRS on Lipman work off of several towers like WAY Systems'?... Does [WAY Systems'] cell phone actually work? If so, what are the procedures to activate cell phone usage? The brochure states that there are 21 carriers.

"Who are they? Do they actually jump from carrier to carrier based on the strongest signal available? It would be nice to be able to explain this in plain terms to potential clients. Will [these companies] be adding additional carriers or options?"
- Leaseman

"I hear VeriFone is coming out with a wireless unit. What can you tell us about theirs and how it will differ from what is already available? Also, what can you tell us about the latest magic boxes that allow us to convert landline terminals to wireless?

"I've just done my first wireless ATM by converting a normal modem to wireless via a magic beige box. It works great, but the cost is too high. Please tell us what different companies are making these available, and are any reasonably priced?"
- Neil

I asked representatives from leading wireless solution providers, including WAY Systems Inc., AIRCHARGE, VeriFone and Comstar Interactive, to help clear up some of this confusion. Following are their responses:


WAY Systems
Connie Festa, Director of Strategic Sales

WAY Systems' wireless terminal solution uses widely available GPRS coverage provided through most of the wireless data network providers. Thus, the WAY Systems Mobile Transaction Terminal (MTT) works almost everywhere that GPRS data service is available.

The MTT currently uses a Siemens phone that can be optionally equipped to provide voice service. Customers are responsible for handling activation and the ongoing service plan when they add voice service. Voice service can be added to the MTT for most customers using Cingular as the cellular provider. Merchants can go to a GSM/GPRS provider and purchase the appropriate voice-plus-data plan.

Merchants are issued a new SIM (a chip that allows the phone to accept voice and data) and can call WAY Systems' help desk for instructions on how to update the MTT settings. The list of GPRS data carriers continues to grow and evolve as companies merge and new wireless carriers come to the marketplace.

The current list of carriers through which the MTT works include Cingular/AT&T, T-Mobile, Cincinnati Bell Wireless, ACC/Dobson, Edge Wireless, First Cellular, Indigo Wireless, NE Colorado Public Services, Triton PCS, Viaero Wireless, Western Wireless and Westlink.

The MTT automatically searches and locks on to the strongest GPRS carrier signal. Merchants do not need to know which carriers provide coverage. They also do not need to try to select the one with the best signal.

WAY Systems combines a handheld POS terminal, wireless data service and gateway connectivity into a single package, which makes the solution easy to sell. Once delivered, merchants simply open the box and begin using the product.


AIRCHARGE
Robert Wallace, President

GPRS is actually a cellular technology from the cell phone companies. Data roaming agreements vary between carriers, and MLS customers might be billed extra fees if accessing those systems. There is no set answer as to whether this will occur.

What was the brand on the magic box, to which MLS Forum member Neil referred? ... If the box runs on analog towers and is actually making connections through dial up, the solution is very short lived. The federal government is only forcing the cell phone companies that had analog services to keep them operational until the end of 2007.

Most cell phone solutions use data services that must be activated for additional costs from the carrier. Once that is done there are varying procedures based on the provider of the equipment and software. AIRCHARGE is an over-the-air download and activation, and the wireless terminals might be either.

AIRCHARGE uses the following carriers: Sprint, Nextel, Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile, Southern LINC, Extend America, Dobson Cellular, Cellular One, Cincinnati Bell, Alamosa PCS and other regional carriers. AIRCHARGE also offers AIRCHECKZ for check conversion (on Nextel phones only at this time).


VeriFone
David Talach, Director of Product Development

VeriFone and other leading POS solution providers have created turn-key wireless offerings such as V-Connect. Such services, not only simplify activation and billing, but also ensure that your monthly bill is fixed, and never burdened with extra billing charges.

A number of solutions enable legacy terminals to be converted to wireless; however, the installation and repair of these vary by manufacturer. Given price points, the need for new features and the need for simplified deployments, VeriFone believes it makes the most sense for MLSs to sell a system designed specifically for the market that they serve.

VeriFone does not offer a cell phone-based system because we believe that payment solutions should be designed specifically for a target market. A generic or retrofitted solution does not provide the features (paper roll, etc.) and usability (large screen, ATM keys, etc.) that merchants require for real-world environments. Payment is a mission critical application and the wireless solution of choice needs to provide the usability, reliability and simplicity that makes it easier for merchants to do their job.

Frankly, acquirers and merchants shouldn't have to know which carriers are offered. The goal is to make wireless payment simple and easy. VeriFone supports multiple carriers that provide nationwide service. We believe wireless POS should just work, no questions asked.

VeriFone has already introduced the Vx610, which we've dubbed "The Portable Powerhouse." The Vx610 is a high performance, full-function system providing merchants with an all-in-one design that incorporates communications design with a choice of the latest wireless technologies, including GPRS, CDMA and Wi-Fi.


Comstar Interactive
Rich Robertson, Director of Sales

Comstar is currently finalizing our CDMA certification. GPRS provides nationwide coverage so the merchant will not incur any additional roaming fees when accessing the network. Comstar currently offers a check guarantee service on the Lipman NURIT 8000s as well as our CHARGE ANYwhere device.

Comstar is very easy to do business with. We have developed online tools that allow our business partners to board, activate and download terminals instantly. We have also created industry specific software that caters to towing, taxi/limo, restaurant, quick service restaurant and delivery industries. In addition to the industry specific software, merchants have the benefit of seeing all their transactions online and in real time. This is a great tool for generating specific reports.

MLSs can offer their merchants any of these products: Comstar's Charge Anywhere, Dassault Artema, AIRCHARGE NPM, ASM, DM2, & AM, Mobile Charge, Mobile Swipe, WAY Systems MTT, VeriFone VX610, LinkPoint 9100, Hypercom T7Plus, Mobile Scape, Lipman NURIT 3010 and NURIT 8000.

Given the all the choices available to MLSs and processors, it's easy to understand the confusion. Some speculate whether wireless will eventually take the place of landline terminals altogether.

One MLS Forum member, noting the high cost of a traditional phone line at $50 to $60 dollars per month, suggested that merchants would save money by implementing a wireless POS system. Forum member Neil suggested doing the following to set merchants' expectations for using a wireless system:

"I believe the most important thing to do is explain to the merchant ahead of time that wireless isn't perfect. Anyone considering wireless processing will certainly already have a cell phone. Explain to the merchant that just like with the cell phone there are going to be times they work great and other times you want to drop them in a toilet.

"... There isn't a solution that's going to work 100% of the time for a mobile merchant. The problem comes from letting the merchant think he's getting a perfect solution. ... He knows his cell phone doesn't work everywhere and neither will wireless terminals."

Another issue that concerns MLSs placing wireless terminals is that not all leasing companies will accept a lease on a wireless terminal. These companies will accept leases for wireless units: First Leasing; Barclay Square Leasing Inc.; GlobalTech Leasing Inc.; Integrated Leasing; Ladco Leasing; Signature Leasing; MBF Leasing; and Northern Leasing (for 24 months only).

You also have the option to sell wireless terminals to merchants or even give them away for free. United Bank Card Inc. was the first company to offer free wireless Comstar Interactive Charge Anywhere terminals; North American Bankcard followed with the WAY Systems MTT.

Kathy Harper of Griffin, Ga. is an MLS and President of NAOPP. E-mail her at advpaytec@aol.com or call her at 770-843-3399.

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