Motorola believes it has just what small businesses — particularly those in the retail sector — need for those times when they're on the phone with a customer but the information the customer wants isn't at their fingertips.

Last month, the company introduced the CLS1450c, a two-way radio with a built-in digital 2.4 GHz cordless phone. The unit requires no monthly airtime fees or service contracts, though an FCC license is required and a monthly bill for telephone service would apply. The handset offers 56 “business-exclusive” UHF frequencies that enable the user to avoid the chatter associated with GMRS/FRS radios, according to Motorola. A single base station — containing a rechargeable NiCd battery capable of holding a 10-hour charge — supports up to four handsets.

In addition to retail, target markets for the CLS1450c include restaurants, hotels, school districts and health-care facilities, according to Rafael Rivera, marketing communications manager for Motorola. “They all need to communicate internally with staff, and that's where the business two-way radio comes into play,” Rivera said. “And each needs to communicate with the outside world.”

This is particularly true in retail, where a lack of responsiveness to customer needs often results in lost sales, Rivera said. “Say a customer calls in and says he saw an item in the store's sale paper, and wants to know whether the store has the item in stock. The person taking that call might not know the information off the top of their head,” he said.

The consequence is that the clerk has to call the customer back with an answer, or put the customer on hold for a lengthy period. Neither is a particularly good option, Rivera said. “You might lose the sale, or the customer might develop a bad image of your store, because you couldn't answer his question,” he said.

The CLS1450c helps solve that problem by offering seamless interaction between the two-way radio and the cordless phone at the push of a button, according to Motorola. The CLS1450c also offers both one-to-one and group communications. “This product allows you to not only communicate from one staff member to another, but also get the answer quickly to the customer, so he gets what he needs,” Rivera said.

He predicted the CLS1450c also would be particularly useful in school and health-care scenarios, where rapid evacuation of facilities sometimes is required. “If something were to happen, you could mobilize all the students and teachers in an orderly fashion and call the proper authorities to get the help you need using this product,” he said. The cordless phone has a range of 100,000 square feet from its base — enough for a “good-sized retail store or restaurant,” Rivera said — while the two-way radio offers a range of 200,000 square feet.

However, retailers might have difficulty justifying the purchase of the CLS1450c — which has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $269 — when they could buy Motorola's Talkabout walkie-talkie for as low as $60, according to Adam Guy, senior analyst with The Yankee Group. “It seems like one guy would need the [CLS1450c], and everybody else would need two-way radios,” Guy said. “If you're the only guy in the store, you might need it. But if everyone has it, no one is going to know who's supposed to answer the phone. Intuitively, I don't see the value proposition for this product.”

The CLS1450c was in development for more than a year, according to Rivera, who added that Motorola only had to make a minor adjustment to the CLS1450c upon the completion of beta testing by selected customers and distributors. “There was very little that we had to change. We made a few tweaks here and there in terms of its usability, [specifically] the ability to navigate when you're programming it, to make it a little easier. From concept to end product, it's not too different from where we started.”
— Glenn Bischoff

Consumer spin-offs migrate to government, commercial markets

The Consumer Electronics Show typically is associated with flashy gadgets, giant-screen television sets and powerful audio systems for consumers. However, several items exhibited at January's annual Las Vegas event likely will be deployed in the first responder, government, and business sectors.

Aura Communications showed the LibertyLink near-field magnetic induction technology for wireless voice and data applications. While the detectable range of a typical 2.4 GHz Bluetooth wireless device is several dozen meters, the Aura product's signal has a much smaller range with no RF propagation.

“Using the 13.56 MHz [Industrial Scientific Medical] band, we provide a low-power and totally secure wireless link for personal communications,” said Aura Vice President Dan Cui. “Outside of a six-foot bubble, the signal is effectively undetectable, unlike Bluetooth and other 2.4 GHz solutions.”

Cui said a number of manufacturers are looking to incorporate Aura's technology into consumer products. The military and NASA also are examining LibertyLink for use in voice and medical-monitoring devices that take advantage of its low radio-frequency footprint.

The LibertyLink single-chip technology currently is shipping in the foneGEAR Cord Free cordless headset. The headset can be used with any phone or application that has a universal 2.5mm headset jack and delivers up to 25 hours of talk time from a single AA battery.

Giant International, a manufacturing partner of Motorola, showed several concept models of Motorola's FRS/GMRS Talkabout two-way radios, which might be available for shipping by the third quarter. Though designed for the consumer market, the Talkabout was used by U.S. Army troops in Iraq last year.

The Talkabout T5SOL incorporates a solar cell in the front shell of the radio to provide a “solar boost recharge system” that “significantly extends” service time between charges, according to product marketing materials. The solar cell provides enough power to “trickle charge” the built-in nickel cadmium battery, keeping it refreshed while walking around.

“It won't charge a battery,” said Sheryl Gray, a marketing manager for the company, “But it will extend the life of the battery away from a charger.”

One of the most interesting Talkabout models is the T7400, a 2.0-watt radio with a range of seven miles, a priority scan feature that locates the most private channel and signal processing that removes static hiss. First responders and others may also find some creative uses for the T5SMS, a FRS/GMRS version with a built-in keyboard and the ability to send peer-to-peer text messages to other radio users.

Powering devices always has been a challenge, but ICP Solar Technologies and SCOTTeVEST joined forces to demonstrate three different jacket prototypes incorporating flexible thin-film solar cells on the outside with pre-wired Personal Area Network (PAN) pockets, to provide power to individual devices, for either charging or immediate use. Tapping into power is as simple as plugging a device into one of the jacks housed inside the pockets.

“We expect solar panels, together with the PAN, to be incorporated into approximately 30% of all outerwear in the next three to five years.” said Scott Jordan, chairman and CEO of SCOTTeVEST.

The technologies originally were designed to provide extreme-sports enthusiasts power for cell phones and MP3 players as they skied and snowboarded, but the company is discussing ways to incorporate the breakthroughs into military use with both the Army and Marines. Current versions of the solar cells operate at 9% power-conversion efficiency, “a doubling from last year,” according to the company.