POS Wireless Handheld Terminals...Great in the Right Places

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October 01, 2002
Wireless Point of Sale
Geoff Griswold - theomnigroup@ mindspring.com

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© 2002 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Handheld server terminals can work well, but make sure that the situation is right for your establishment.

For years point-of-sale vendors have been offering handheld devices to be used by servers for taking food and beverage orders. Earlier models were supplied by companies such as Granite Communications and communicated wirelessly by using spread-spectrum technology.

Spread spectrum, also known as frequency hopping, packets the data to be transmitted and spreads it over a wider range of bandwidth than required by the content. Receivers recognize the spread signal and de-spread it, thus returning the data to its original form. This is the same technology used in CDMA (code division multiple access) for PCS cellular phone systems.

Today’s handhelds are mainly Pocket PCs from Compaq and other vendors or the rugged Symbol handheld terminal, also based on Pocket PC technology.

These devices use the Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 operating system and have full processing capabilities.

Wireless communication is achieved using the industry standard 802.11b or WiFi technology. WiFi (wireless fidelity) operates in the 2.4 GHz range of the radio spectrum up to speeds of 11 MB per second. Wireless transmissions can be secured by using the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryptions standard along with a number of other security products available from Internet Security Systems (Atlanta, Ga.) and other suppliers.

The Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC has become popular with many point-of-sale suppliers. It comes equipped with a color reflective TFT liquid crystal display that can display up to 65,536 colors. The screen measures 2.26 inches wide by 3.02 inches tall and accepts touchscreen input. The devices have up to 64 MB of RAM and the processor runs at a speed of 206MHz. Proprietary software is loaded onto these devices so that servers do not have access to the built-in calendar, word processing and other features not applicable to point-of-sale processing.

The Symbol 2800 handheld series is based on the Pocket PC platform. These devices have bar code scanning and real-time wireless communication options.

Both monochrome and color screens are available. While more expensive than the Compaq, the Symbol terminal can withstand a four-foot drop to concrete and is sealed to rigid industry standards.

InfoGenesis (Santa Barbara, Calif.) has experienced good success using handheld terminals. The Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center (Orlando, Fla.) uses handhelds so that its guests can charge from anywhere on the property. The property also has standard-size point-of-sale terminals installed. The handhelds have the capability to swipe the guest’s credit card right at the table and receive authorization.

Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center (Orlando, Fla.) cited many benefits of handheld and wireless devices.

  1. No more waiting in line to ring up orders
  2. Staff can serve guests anywhere, without restrictions
  3. More time spent on floor by servers
  4. Improved kitchen to table service
  5. Increased order accuracy
  6. Reduced labor costs/improved efficiency

Another interesting wireless application at the resort is the use of the guestroom keycard to make purchases from vending machines and have them automatically posted to the folio.
Geac Restaurant Systems (Nashua, N.H.) cites a number of benefits from the use of handhelds. Owen Smith, director of sales, provides the following examples:

  • Burgermaster (Bellevue, Wash.) is reminiscent of the old drive-in restaurants. Servers greet guests at their car, attach a tray and take orders using a Pocket PC. Features include being able to enter the customer’s seat position in the car should separate checks be requested. Owner Bob Jensen stated that is was essential that the system keep up with high lunch volume, which it has.
  • Satsuma, a restaurant based in the heart of Soho, London, uses handhelds to service its guests. “We wanted a wireless solution in order to serve our guests faster, enhance guest service, increase table turns and reduce food costs,” said General Manager Charlie Tsui. Geac’s system met all of these requirements plus many other features.
  • Wagamama, a U.K. restaurant chain that operates 20 restaurants, selected Geac for use of the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC. Operations Director Jay Travis said Wagamama chose Geac because, “Their technology is fast, reliable and easy to use.”

Squirrel Systems (Vancouver, Canada) has taken a cautious approach to handhelds. Linda Gillis, director of marketing, said that while there has been some demand for handhelds from new and existing clients, it has not necessarily been overwhelming.

Squirrel, the company that first introduced touchscreen technology to the industry, has partnered with Ameranth Wireless (San Diego, Calif.) to provide handheld functionality based on the Pocket PC platform and the 802.11b communications standard.

Another interesting wireless device used by Squirrel, but not necessarily for point of sale, is the FIC AquaPad. It is a handheld pad (bigger than the Pocket PC) that can communicate with any type of system that supports the 802.11b standard. Some applications include performing table audits to ensure POS accuracy and taking inventory in a storeroom or walk-in cooler.

The screen on the Aquapad is 8.4 inches and provides a resolution of 800x600 pixels. It supports 128 MB RAM and 32 MB of nonvolatile memory. Overall dimensions are 10.8 inches long, 6.6 inches wide and 1.1 inches deep.

Postec (Atlanta, Ga.) is a MICROS point-of-sale distributor. Rick Harmon, sales project manager, has over 25 years of point-of-sale experience and has been involved in handhelds since MICROS released their first product 10 years ago.

“Every situation is different,” said Harmon. “You have to analyze each establishment to see if handhelds will fit there.”

Postec has had the most success installing handhelds in places where there is a limited food and beverage menu. “Scrolling through a lot of screens on a handheld can be difficult,” said Harmon.

Another area of success for handhelds has been at stadiums and casinos. Turner Field, the home of the Braves in Atlanta, uses handhelds to take orders from fans. Many casinos use them to take orders from gamblers.

“Handhelds work best in situations where food and beverage is not the primary experience, such as stadiums (ballgames) and casinos (gambling),” said Harmon.

Of course, any regular PC-based POS terminal can communicate wirelessly by adding a wireless card and an access point to the network hub. This has application for using a terminal on a patio or in a private meeting room.

Handheld server terminals can work well, but make sure that the situation is right for your establishment.

Geoff Griswold is a hardware and wiring specialist for the Omni Group in Atlanta, Ga. The company assists clients in all phases of technology including the use of handheld devices. He can be reached at 888-960-8787 or mailto:theomnigroup@mindspring.com.

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