By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
WebLink Wireless plans August availability of the first of five new ReFLEX-network messaging devices, which the company said are more affordable than previous models, offer additional features, and receive messages more reliably than cellular phones.
The units will be WebLink's first two-way messaging devices not made by Motorola, which shipped its last messaging device in late 2002. All are equipped with QWERTY keyboard.
Although WebLink will market the devices and services mainly to enterprises and to small and large resellers, WebLink hopes to entice more brick-and-mortar electronics retailers to re-enter the paging market to target SOHO users and other business users, said WebLink president Ross Buckenham.
"Lots of retailers would like to get back in," he said. Business-to-business retailers such as OfficeMax would be appropriate retailers, he added, because two-way pagers have been sold mainly to enterprises and to other business users.
WebLink is interested in extending its reseller model to larger retail chains, Buckenham noted. "We sell through a lot of resellers, including mom-and-pop wireless retailers, who bill their customers" monthly for airtime purchased wholesale, he said. Major retailers that offer charge cards could provide automatic billing of monthly flat-rate plans, he said.
"We are open to a reseller business model," he said. Retailers ought to be interested, he continued, because "a couple of years ago, they pushed for a percentage of [airtime] revenue." A dealer's airtime revenue would come on top of 24- to 25-point margins, Buckenham said.
WebLink already sells its services through Fry's Electronics and select e-tail sites.
Even without a carrier subsidy, the new models will be available to enterprises and end users with prices lower than those on two current Motorola-made ReFLEX devices. ReFLEX advocates cite the new suppliers' lower overhead compared to Motorola's and the use of open Palm and Linux operating systems in some models.
Two-way messaging carriers market a carryover Motorola T-900 to enterprises for around $150. At Fry's it sells for $175 with WebLink service. Another carryover Motorola model features proprietary PDA OS for about $330. Both prices include carrier buydowns.
The first non-Motorola model from WebLink will be PerComm's e80, shipping in August. It's an eight-line model with more power and sensitivity than Motorola's T-900. It also adds joystick navigation, ability to send one message to multiple recipients and ability to dock to a PC to back up its address book. It uses a rechargeable battery lasting a week under heavy use. Its suggested retail through the dealer and reseller channels is $159.95.
Next, WebLink plans September availability of the HuneTec H200, at a suggested $189.95, in black or silver. It adds additional PIM functions, calculator, games and bigger screen, but no PDA OS.
A Palm-OS version of the above is the color-screen HuneTec H500 at a suggested $369.95. It synchronizes with a PC's PIM applications and will be available in November or December.
Also in November, WebLink will offer the S-935 clamshell from Sun Telecom at a suggested retail of around $159.95. Also planned is a step-up version, the S-935 clamshell from Sun Telecom, which will add Linux OS and support for Java J2ME applications at a suggested retail of around $369.
WebLink's devices will provide pager-to-pager messaging, pager-to-SMS messaging, and e-mail redirection of enterprise and ISP e-mail accounts. Service prices start at $9.95/month for 250 100-character messages. The plans top out at $29.95/month for unlimited messaging.
"Businesses find their total cellular costs of $50 or more per month to be too high," Buckenham contended. WebLink service "will be more affordable for IT departments, field technicians, salespeople and manufacturing-plant workers."
Service will also be more reliable, he added. In-building coverage will be greater because each pager communicates simultaneously with three transmitter towers, while cellular phones communicate with only one cell tower at a time, he said. WebLink also uses 1,000-watt base stations compared to cellular's 60-watt stations. Two-way paging networks also use store-and-forward technology to ensure a subscriber gets a message after he gets back into network range.
Anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of cellular SMS messages are lost because subscribers were out of range when the message was sent, Buckenham contended. "We're 99.9-percent reliable."
WebLink, he added, offers twice the geographic coverage of 2.5G and 3G cellular networks, on which cellular carriers deliver their e-mail redirection services.
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