Lately, you may have heard some of your business buddies using hi-tech buzzwords such as “wireless,” or “m-commerce.” The “next big thing” they may have called it, “the wave of the future.” How many times have you heard that one before? Although there may be some truth to those optimistic remarks, wireless still has a way to go. Here’s a quick summary about where we are right now with this new technology and where it’s headed.

Providers, and the WAP

Wireless technology includes any type of device that can handle two-way, real-time communication, such as digital phones, handheld devices like the Palm VII, and two-way pagers. There are two groups that a merchant (that’s you) needs to be aware of: the service provider, and the wireless data provider. The service provider owns the wireless network (e.g., Sprint PCS). They also own and control the gateway and dictate what shows up on a default home page of each phone or PDA. Wireless data providers are to wireless what Ariba is to B2B. They own the marketplace. Most e-commerce that takes place via wireless will have to go through the wireless data providers because they’ve already negotiated for the best menu placement on the service providers’ menus, or they have an alternate solution for being easily accessed by their customers.

Like the Web, wireless has its own special, agreed-upon standard of communicating. You’ve probably used or read the expression IP (as in IP address) — that’s the Internet protocol. Http is the hypertext transfer protocol. The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is a standard for having a server talk to wireless devices. The wireless devices expect the data to appear in a certain format. The WAP (visit for more information, including the protocol) specifies two different languages that the wireless data provider can send to the wireless devices (via the WAP). Those are: hdml and wml. Hdml is the standard in the United States; wml is the standard overseas. The analogy here is that http is the protocol and html is the language for all things Web.


M-commerce is simply e-commerce gone wireless. As your business customers migrate from being wired Internet users to being wireless/m-commerce Internet users, some profound shifts will occur in your e-business strategy. For example, you’ll gain access to a much broader customer base, since the uptake of Internet-capable mobile phones far outstrips the roll-out of wired Internet connections around the globe. Ask yourself how many of your hvac engineer and contractor pals have mobile phones, or even better, a Palm device of some kind? Are you thinking: all of them? With that in mind, is it hard to think that wireless access to the Web will stay irrelevant in the hvac world? The smart thing to do is to look at mobile devices as just one of many touch points you’ll need to be able to support in the future, just like you did with e-commerce over the past year or so. And remember that service providers and data providers still have a long way to go in terms of setting up networks to support wireless commerce. In other words, you have lots of time to prepare.

Around the Web

Cambridgeport Air Systems (Cambridgeport, MA) has recently launched the hvac market’s first, online ahu builder and configurator aimed at contractors, engineers, and facility managers. The site utilizes an intuitive four-step process (QwikBuild) that actually helps you “build” an air handler online (choose from six modules online, 14 modules offline). The units themselves are priced very attractively and lead times are far less than what you’d expect (3-7 weeks as opposed to the 10- to 15-week standard). This is the perfect site for those looking to replace or retrofit older ahu systems. If you are unable to build a QwikBuild unit online, Cambridgeport provides you with the option of going custom via FlexBuild, its online custom ahu specifier. In either case, Cambridgeport wants you buying your next ahu through them, and they make a good case. Visit or call 1-800-648-2872.

Elsewhere, when HVACOnline ( was first launched way back in the late ‘90s, I said, “this is it,” the start of the Internet revolution for the hvac industry. A lot of time has passed since that launch, and HVACOnline hasn’t gone anywhere. How far have they not gone? The ASHRAE Show, for example, is still listed as being held in Chicago. Their Site of the Month hasn’t changed in 12 months. They have an e-commerce area (for members), but I have no idea how to get the required user ID and password. The site still offers a fairly decent search function. That is, if you haven’t already printed every page you needed. This site feels abandoned, because it has been abandoned. I’ll be happy when the registration on the domain name is up, allowing another party to come in and do something constructive.