Having halted development of its proprietary packet data network, UK mobile data provider, Cognito has instead chosen to concentrate on delivering integrated voice and data services for business applications using GPRS and GSM. Adam Hamilton reports.
Cognito's md Steve Alderson explained that the change of direction "in these dark times" was due to the prevailing assessment by business users that proprietary networks are intrinsically limited.
Cognito's growth in the 1990s was based on a successful packet radio system, but despite large amounts spent on research and development, devices quickly became obsolete. By dispensing with onerous network and hardware costs associated with its previous proprietary system the company expects to leverage profitability in 'niche' mobile data markets.
Cognito's new push and pull packet data service is aimed specifically at field service organisations and allows mobile workers to communicate with central database systems, using GPRS, GSM, PSTN, internet and email, via PDAs and laptops. The inclusion of GSM preserves service continuity and resilience where GPRS coverage is absent. Two-way data is managed by the Cognito Network, which delivers transactions immediately or via a store and forward facility, depending on network coverage and device status. Audit trails and status can be determined and voice, internet and email facilities managed.
Handling voice and a GPRS connection simultaneously is for the unequivocal Cognito md one of "the little details that make a system sing."
December 2001 saw the system running on the Siemens SX45 using Pocket PC software, with an updated version ported to the XDA, for rollout in April 2003.
The solution aims to eliminate paperwork, data-entry duplication and reduce the amount of time call centre staff spend managing calls. It allows user-specified information to be sent to, and be captured by, remote workers, which is then presented on Windows-based Formsplus user-defined templates, which are streamed to, rather than held on, the device. WTP scripting enables the creation of data stores, templates and processing rules without recourse to complex programming and allows application ammendments and remote updates. Therefore, same day invoicing, up-to-the-minute stock management and formatted printing is possible. The system is also flexible enough to handle a variety of data including signatures and barcodes. "I reckon Cognito invented forms ten years ago," was the earnest assessment of Steve Alderson, elaborating on the interface with management information systems. Cognito also handles the entire process of network authentication, providing user names and passwords and interrogating them at the point of access.
The company has ample experience of developing end-to-end solutions for field services and supplying all the constituents of a packet data system itself; including the network, mobile data units and the operating system. It has overcome past limited potential for software development and fragile solutions using PC/GSM connectors. Its Messager 111 service with ServiceTec had also proved that costs based on usage were difficult to predict and by charging a fixed monthly tariff (currently UKP45 per month and comparable with the Blackberry), costs were reduced. Developing PCs with embedded GSM units as Panasonic, Motorola and Psion had and providing mobile workers with laptops no longer appeals. Present competition from the likes of IBM and Motorola is not felt to be a major concern because these earlier technologies are not fully realised. "I don't see the need... for TETRA in this market," was the emphatic comment from Steve Alderson, in the light of the data services launch.
Cognito is already considering future partnerships for potential expansion and is particularly interested in companies that operate internationally. It already works with the four major UK operators and has two points of presence in the Vodafone network. Six thousand units have been sold so far, despite the market having seen a reduction in service forces. Customers include ntl Group, Rank Leisure Machines, Avery Berkel and Planned Maintenance Engineering, whose acquisition was primarily due to the addition of GSM capability. Confident of its approach, the objective is twenty thousand UK customers in the long term, with imminent expansion into Eire. Holland is also cited as an "interesting" market to explore. The aim for Cognito is to drive value upwards, for a relatively small but lucrative user base, through improved connectivity, integration and value-added services.