The plight of the overseas traveler starts with the plane ride seven hours of recycled air, leg room more fit for a five-year-old and bland movies on a tiny overhead screen. But it doesnt end there. When business travelers are away from home in another country, staying connected is a critical, ongoing but often thankless exercise in frustration.
From finding decent Internet access to making calls, from leveraging GPS for directions to trying to use mobile e-mail, the international travel scene presents situational hurdles that can cost an arm and a leg, and a good deal of time. Fortunately for globe-trotting businesspeople and the VARs that serve them, a range of mobile products and services have arrived to help ease the pain.
Take, for instance, the roaming issue. As anyone knows who has placed a call from say, London back to the office, roaming rates can be astronomical, to the tune of $3 per minute or more. For the road warrior living or dying by the phone, that can add up quickly and potentially become a bank-breaker for many companies. Because international rates and roaming are not covered under a home carriers standard rate plan, customers are surprised by larger phone bills, much larger, than expected, says Jeff Wilson, general manager at Brightroam, an MVNO dedicated to providing affordable talk time overseas. Lots of international travelers have learned to save money with prepaid cards, but its not an ideal solution for a business traveler since you have to buy a voucher after figuring out which one makes the most sense, worry about the balance, etc., and you just want your phone to work.
Brightroam, which is planning to launch its channel program for wireless dealers in the next couple of months, offers a postpaid service that provides users call details for expense report purposes, 24/7 English support and user guides, and a Web-based ordering and management platform. Users are sent a SIM card that they can place in any unlocked GSM phone; the operator offers users local SIM cards for Australia, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, India, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with global roaming SIMs for free incoming calls in more than 40 countries and coverage in more than 90 countries. If the customer doesnt have an unlocked phone, Brightroam offers handsets for $69 or a bundle with airtime for $89.
One of the things we wanted to emphasize is no monthly commitment or a contract, explains Wilson. $25 gives you 60 days of service, and can extend it 30 days to 365 days. We try to be flexible.
Similarly, a company called letsroam offers global SIM cards under its Card4anywhere program that operates in more than 90 countries and provides free roaming in 50 of those. It also integrates conference call functionality. letsroam was created as a direct result of customer enquiries for a low-cost wireless service when traveling, says Shane Siggins, the managing director of letsroam. Customers are not happy paying high hotel phone or roaming costs.
Talk is one thing, accessing key services is another. Take e-mail, VPNs and other applications that require Internet access. Wi-Fi was intended to solve the problem for global travelers, but the variation in throughput rates and coverage, and the necessity to pay by credit card at hotspots has made it less ubiquitous and user-friendly than it could be. Meanwhile, wired Internet hookups are infrequent in hotels. The situation is frustrating for a traveler in an unfamiliar city where he or she may not know the language.
Qualcomm Inc. hopes to fix that issue with Gobi, a multimodal chipset that will start popping up in commercial notebooks beginning in the second quarter of 2008. Gobis goal? To provide global, ubiquitous mobile Web access across both CDMA2000 EV-DO and GSM-based HSPA networks two heretofore incompatible technologies.
Operators around the world have deployed either CDMA with its high-speed EV-DO revisions (a technology borne out of Qualcomm), or more frequently, GSM with its HSPA broadband flavor. Because of the incompatibility between the two, laptop makers wishing to provide users with the ability to tap into mobile high-speed anywhere would have to purchase two chipsets, one for each technology an expensive proposition at best, and not one that would allow for seamless handoff between the two.
Gobi, however, means that the new laptops can roam across existing 3G coverage areas regardless of technology type, eliminating the footprint holes that exist today and allowing CDMA subscribers to more easily travel abroad and get high-speed mobile Internet access as long as inter-carrier roaming agreements fall into place.
Gobi-enabled notebook computers with global mobile Internet unify the most important wireless carrier network technologies deployed around the world, providing comprehensive support for all 3GPP and 3GPP2 technologies, says Sanjay Jha, Qualcomms CEO. We are leveraging Qualcomms expertise in multimode wireless chipsets to bring unparalleled connectivity to notebook users, who can now be confident they can instantly access the Internet without searching for a hotspot today.
The Treo 750 is built for traveling abroad.
Verizon Business is tackling the problem in its own way with the launch of Global Broadband Satellite Access. Customers will use a Thrane & Thrane EXPLORER terminal to connect to a broadband global area network (BGAN) that leverages geostationary satellites for global coverage. Employees can access company data and make voice calls using the same device; and the service provides enhanced security for VPN support and corporate data protection. This agreement opens up a new world of opportunity for enterprise customers, says George Spohn, vice president and general manager of Thrane & Thrane for the Americas.
Some business users prefer to use their handset for mobile e-mail and applications, and some manufacturers cater to this segment with purpose-built devices.
International business travelers need a world-class device that works seamlessly when traveling abroad, says Joe Fabris, director of wireless solutions for Palm Inc. From a U.S. perspective, this limits them to GSM carriers, such as AT&T, or purchasing a phone that is not locked to any specific carrier. For this customer, Palm offers the Treo 750 from AT&T Inc., a five-band world phone running Windows Mobile with Direct Push Technology for e-mail, calendar and contacts. Users also can add on GPS solutions such as one offered from Telenav, to get turn-by-turn voice and on-screen GPS directions directly on their devices for use when driving or walking.
Meanwhile, Critical Path Inc.s Memova Mobile platform allows users needing just e-mail to travel without thought to device, as long as they have a MMS-compatible GSM cell phone. Memova allows users to send and receive mobile e-mails from existing accounts, no smartphone required. Users also can send and receive messages from a pre-approved list of addresses, which eliminates spam and cuts down on mobile e-mail charges. The service is available via carrier partners channel programs.
Being able to check e-mail from a mobile phone can save the international traveler a lot of time and money, says Michelle Weber, senior director of corporate marketing at Critical Path. International travelers, like consumers in general, are crying out for an affordable, easier way to access e-mail while away from home. While there are many technologies out there that provide mobile e-mail access from phones, most of them are too complicated to set up and they provide a slow, cumbersome experience.
Whether its voice or e-mail, GPS or conferencing, wireless dealers can do well to cater to international needs. The main key is being able to communicate, says Brightroams Wilson. Its just not optional for business travelers.
|AT&T Inc. www.att.com
Critical Path Inc. www.criticalpath.net
Palm Inc. www.palm.com
Qualcomm Inc. www.3Gchipsets.com/gobi
Verizon Wireless www.verizon.com