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Wireless technology changing the way Mississippi works

No doubt about it. Cell phones have changed the lifestyles of Americans. In addition to it being more common than not these days for people to have a cell phone, cell phones and other wireless technology have changed the way business is conducted today.

Wireless technology allows business people to have a “virtual office” wherever they are, said Sue Sperry, spokesperson for AT&T Mississippi.

“Obviously, BlackBerries are a huge trend that are almost commonplace now,” Sperry says. “If you have a business, especially a sales-oriented business, having that link up to your network makes for a fluid communications experience. You can get your e-mails, and access your network. Mobility is extremely important.”

Buying in

Business is increasingly buying into more wireless technology, as well as VoIP — voice-over-Internet protocol.

“Even though you are using the Internet-based line or signal, you can talk to people with standard voice,” Sperry said. “Residents are interested in VoIP, but small businesses especially are moving towards this technology because of cost savings. It is about 20% less expensive. You don’t have to upgrade a lot of equipment. You can pick and choose what goes with it.”

Unlike residential users who are increasingly opting to go cell-only, most big businesses still have land lines. But maybe not for long.

“While many small business owners use wireless only for their communication needs, several really large business entities of Cellular South have begun investigating that possibility, too,” says Jim Richmond, director of corporate communications for Cellular South. “We expect this trend to continue over the next few years. We find that business customers in the service industry tend to be the leaders when it comes to cutting the cord. They need to be mobile and wireless gives them this flexibility. Many small, family-owned businesses who are customers of Cellular South use wireless only from a business perspective. Controlling expenses and managing their business efficiently are very important to them.”

Cutting-edge products

Another reason why many customers go wireless is due to the vast number of products available now.

“There are so many product choices now for business users as well as consumers that help them manage their professional and work life,” Richmond says. “Not only do you have traditional wireless products like voice, text messaging and data (mobile e-mail and Internet access), but now you have mobile commerce products that are growing in popularity. These products like OboPay and WirelessWallet allow wireless users to make purchases and move money around with a few key strokes on their phone.”

Patrick Kimball, public relations manager for Verizon Wireless, says the most significant trend in business use of wireless technology is the increased use of wireless data products.

“Verizon Wireless offers wireless broadband connectivity that allows business customers to connect to the Internet or to their corporate networks while they are away from the office,” Kimball says. “Wireless broadband-enabled PDAs and laptop computers allow users to keep connected and productive while away from the office. A large number of wireless customers have abandoned their land line service in favor of their wireless service. This trend has increased as wireless networks have increased their coverage areas and as new wireless technologies have been developed that provide features that are not available on landline phones.”

At your desk or on the road

We are at a point today almost anything you do on the desk you have the ability to do on the road, says Mark Scott, director of business solutions for Mississippi Alltel. “Everything is going mobile right now,” Scott said. “The push in the industry as a whole is to really push the desktop. Get people away from the office and doing business out in the field. This puts people in front of their customers and not strapped to a desk. With the competitive landscape, customers are looking for more and more ways to be efficient not just for their employees, but for customers.”

Wireless devices are being used for more and more things these days. Scott gives the example of a large customer who has an office cleaning business. What does it need data devices for? The company uses it for employee time tracking, and for forms employee can use to report problems.

“If something is broken, the employee can take a picture and document the broken item,” Scott says. “There is no question that data is the predominant need. It is getting away from just having a phone and being able to talk. And it is not just the BlackBerry, but the Palm Treo and the Motorola Q. There are so many devices to allow business to be done in the field.”

On the job satisfaction

The advantage to businesses is it makes the employee much more efficient. The business can deliver goods or services in a faster manner. It can also increase employee job satisfaction.

“They can get their work done in the field without having to come back to the office,” Scott says. “They can finish up their work and get home to spend time with their family.”

With all the increased usage of wireless services, are the networks keeping up? Alltel plans to spend $4.3 million this year investing in improving the network in Mississippi. There is a big push to “open a bigger pipe” so wireless companies can deliver more and more data services to customers in addition to voice service.

AT&T is investing $20 million in Mississippi in 2007. At the end of the year, 45 new cell towers will be up, and where people are really going to see this is in the Delta. In addition to better coverage in the largely rural Delta, a higher grade new network is also planned for Jackson.

Cellular South says it has invested millions of dollars and built hundreds of towers in order to stay ahead of enormous usage growth. The investment has allowed the company to improve call quality and the coverage area, strengthen the wireless infrastructure and increase capacity for data usage.

Verizon Wireless reports that investing in the latest network technology, and expanding existing wireless coverage is an essential part of sustaining the growth. Verizon Wireless typically invests more than $1 billion in its network nationwide every quarter with more than $5 billion invested in 2006 alone.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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