Gaining The Wireless Edge

More products include a dot.com component.

"What is our Internet strategy?" was last year's question for manufacturers. This year they are asking similar questions about wireless strategy in an effort to improve their competitive positions. Winning with wireless requires a new mind-set -- integration with the product -- says Somers, N.Y.-based Jon Prial, director of marketing and strategy, Pervasive Computing Div., IBM Corp. Prial says when the division was formed in 1998, "We saw that wireless phones and PDAs [personal digital assistants] were evolving into a new role. Wireless devices are going to be the means for communicating with machines as well as people." Prial's latest convert is Carrier Corp., the Farmington, Conn.-based manufacturer of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems and equipment. With an e-infrastructure supported by IBM services, software, and hardware, Carrier is introducing a pilot wireless remote-monitoring-and-control service for its home air conditioners. Called Myappliance.com, the service is being launched with approximately 400 customers in Britain, Italy, and Greece. Using Web-enabled cell phones, customers will be able to remotely control the air conditioner and thus pare energy usage. Carrier says the wireless feature will be able to set temperatures or switch the units on or off via the company's secure Web site. The service also will send fault codes and other diagnostic alerts instantaneously to mobile phones, e-mail, or fax. Performance and maintenance parameters can be gathered and recorded to anticipate and address potential problems. "By adding that value, the Web connection changes Carrier's business model," observes Richard Doherty, director of research, Envisioneering Group, Seaford, N.Y. "The Web connection can add a new, ongoing revenue stream." Why begin with a European testing program? IBM's Prial says the Web is used differently there. "They've moved quickly to see the Internet as more of a tool, an opportunity to add value to business practice." He adds that North American commercial interests see the Web as more of a graphics engine. "Although North America lags Europe in wireless applications, the gap is closing. Last year North America was more than a year behind; now we think that has been reduced to only six to nine months. The market potential for pervasive computing will reach $215 billion by 2003 with IBM's share reaching $70 billion," adds Prial. Accelerating the same market trend is Motorola Inc.'s Multiservice Networks Div., Mansfield, Mass. Its recent alliance with Food Automation-Service Techniques Inc. (FAST), Stratford, Conn., illustrates another extension of pervasive computing. In April the alliance announced real-time store monitoring for the restaurant industry. Targeting fast-food chains and other commercial kitchens, FAST and Motorola will install monitoring sensors on any kitchen appliance, integrate all the data and voice-communications linkages, and provide central data storage. "We offer process and equipment alerts as well as real-time data and trend analysis via an application-service-provider business model," says FAST's Mario Ceste, vice president. Ceste says the service concept is applicable to other business sectors.

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