For Property Intelligence, providing roaming employees with adequate bandwidth has been an ongoing challenge. The business, which runs the online commercial property information service Focus, has staff constantly on the road around the UK, visiting sites, liaising with local surveyors and meeting with clients.
Simply keeping them in touch with the office using a mobile data application was well within the capabilities of existing GPRS networks. Key staff at the company already use BlackBerry handhelds for accessing email remotely, but Property Intelligence also needed a reliable, high bandwidth service in order to demonstrate its online information offering to potential clients. As the Focus service uses many multimedia files, including map overlays, a GPRS service would have been far too slow.
According to operations director Matthew Hopkinson, at around half of the sites his team visits, there is no Internet connection available to run a demonstration. That fuelled the company’s interest in 3G and an initial purchase of a dozen 3G data cards running on the Vodafone network.
The company’s early experience with the cards has been positive, although there are a few shortcomings.
Coverage for 3G services can be “sporadic”, says Hopkinson. “There will always be dead spots, but there have been times when we should have been able to rely on it, and it has not come up trumps,” he says.
Vodafone’s 3G cards, along with others on the market, fall back to the GPRS network when no 3G signal is available. For Property Intelligence, this is not a problem for office productivity applications, but Hopkinson would like to see wider 3G coverage to ensure the product demos go smoothly.
The company has opted for a 50Mb a month data bundle for its 3G cards, and so far this has proved perfectly adequate, says Hopkinson.
However, he is keen for Vodafone to build tighter usage controls into 3G accounts: one user did manage to run up a bill of £450 in a month for data charges.
“But 3G, where we can get it, helps us show our cutting-edge technology where it matters – at client sites,” Hopkinson says.