Monday, June 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wireless Junxion Box will make auditors' lives easier

Special to The Seattle Times

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Moss Adams, the Seattle-based accounting firm with offices on the West Coast, relies on 19th-century technology when its auditors work out of a client's office.

To retrieve records, the auditors need online access to databases stored in Moss Adams' internal network or on the Internet. But clients often don't make their high-speed network available to the auditors.

In many cases, the auditors turn to Alexander Graham Bell's analog phone line. Worse, at many companies, that single line is connected to a fax machine, and auditors can connect their computers only briefly during lunch.

That's why Dave Cline, director of technology infrastructure at Moss Adams, says he is excited about a wireless device being produced by a Seattle company called Junxion.

"We're looking it at as a great, portable means for these guys to have connectivity when they're out in the field," Cline said.

The device, called the Junxion Box, is designed to allow workers to have wireless access to data through the cellular-phone infrastructure. One key is that the system is easy to set up.

Junxion has several hurdles to establish its product, including convincing cell carriers that the box isn't a misuse of their networks. It also has to explain to potential customers the benefits of ubiquitous — albeit relatively slow — Internet access, while avoiding having their idea duplicated by larger, established networked companies.

Still, the potential for growth is high as cellphone networks improve coverage and speed.

Yankee Group analyst Roberta Wiggins estimates there were 371,000 laptop-based cell-data subscribers in the United States in 2003, rising to an estimated 1 million this year and a projected 8.8 million in 2007.

Introduction next month

Junxion's plan is to serve some of this market with its $700 device, which is being introduced next month.

It's a standalone product that requires little to no configuration to get it to work with existing equipment from AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Sprint PCS and other wireless carriers.

The box connects to the cell-data network and then shares the Internet feed to any computer that connects to the box either with cables or wirelessly (the device can be used as a Wi-Fi access point).

The box will be sold through resellers with the help of Trio Teknologies, which specializes in corporate wireless services.

When the Junxion Box becomes available, it will be pretty much alone as a commercial product. A New York company has created a similar device for transportation settings. Using a technology termed Wi-RAN (rolling-area network), Hampton Jitney is testing it on four Manhattan-to-Long Island shuttle coaches it operates.

In Seattle, cellphone carriers do offer access to data networks, but at relatively slow speeds, up to about 100 kilobits per second.

Nationally, however, the carriers are moving toward broadband speeds. Verizon Wireless is spending $1 billion this year to expand its higher-speed network's availability. AT&T Wireless plans a trial of a similarly high-speed network by 2005 in several cities. Seattle could be host to both variants by year's end.

Various advantages

Junxion expects its box to fill a need of businesses with employees at temporary work locations. Among the prospects are construction companies, trade-show attendees and seasonal businesses.

"From the standpoint of a business user, this box seems like a great idea," said Alan Reiter, a Washington, D.C., consultant who runs Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing. "You can take advantage of the $80 per month price and connect multiple laptops — assuming the cellular operators will allow that."

That could be a problem. The carriers may be less than willing to cooperate, at least initially. Junxion executives said that they have been in discussions with all the carriers, and that the device has "tacit approval," said Mike Brennan, Junxion's press-relations manager.

John Daly, vice president of business development and marketing, posed the situation another way: "Why wouldn't they (carriers) want to sell to increase their market size?"

But Verizon Wireless, the leading carrier, won't be offering a service like Junxion's, said Cheryl Noti, associate director of data development.

Noti said the company would probably consider shared usage a violation of terms of service, which could result in a customer warning or account cancellation.

Still, carriers may have little choice but to tolerate the Junxion Box because the primary way of detecting service violations is through high bandwidth use on unlimited plans. Several experts agreed the Junxion Box's traffic was unlikely to provide that kind of network load.

Noti said Verizon Wireless isn't rejecting the Junxion concept entirely, but with a billion-dollar commitment to extend its high-speed network, "I don't think out of the gate, we're ready for that." An appropriate pricing model would have to be developed, she added. "It's something we're examining and looking at."

AT&T Wireless had no comment about the device. T-Mobile USA and Sprint PCS didn't respond to requests for comment.

Brad Weinert, vice president of business development at cellular-adapter maker Novatel Wireless, said Verizon Wireless' reaction doesn't surprise him. But his company is excited at the possibility of a new audience for Novatel's cell-data cards.

"There's always an element within Verizon or Sprint or whomever that's going to be concerned about adding volumes to the networks because of capacity issues," said Weinert, whose company has a partnership with Junxion to help develop and test products. "They're probably being overly cautious at this point."

Test users of the Junxion Box are enthusiastic about its ease of use and its applications, and actual market demand could drive changes in thinking among carriers, analysts and Noti agreed.

Saved company

Tim Moxey, president of Seattle-based Ironman Wetsuits, credits the Junxion Box with saving his sales this year after the company that shipped Ironman orders filed for bankruptcy.

Ironman was forced to move its inventory into a hastily arranged warehouse, where installing a DSL line would take weeks.

The company turned to the Junxion Box for its high-speed connection.

"It was the difference between our business working this year and our business not working this year," Moxey said.

At the University of Washington's Information School, senior computer specialist Scott Schramke has ordered production units of the box. "What's nice about the device is it's zero configuration. You plug it in and it works," he said.

Schramke's only concern is whether the cell-data networks will cover enough places school personnel travel to. "You don't know until you're on the road and you're roaming around the country what your performance is really going to be," he said.

Moss Adams' Cline has assembled kits for auditing teams that include a wireless access point or Ethernet hub. He sees the Junxion Box as an extension of these kits.

Doubts on market

Junxion president David Hsiao thinks the market is packed with customers, based on his experience as a founder of Monet Mobile Networks.

Monet, a Seattle company now in bankruptcy, offered high-speed, next-generation cellular-data services to homes and businesses in smaller markets.

One analyst expressed doubts about the market. "There may be a niche for it, but it's not going to be mainstream," said Monica Paolini of Senza Fili, an Eastside consultancy. There were only a few industries "in which you have mobile users that travel in groups in a consistent fashion and you can plan around it."

Junxion is targeting several of these vertical markets, including construction and professional services. But with a new product in a nascent segment of Internet access, its potential is unknown.

"The biggest challenge is you're going to be trying to sell this to people who don't know what it does," Weinert said.

Glenn Fleishman, who writes the Practical Mac column in Personal Technology, is a freelance technology writer in Seattle.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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