Because I am kind of a tech geek who realizes how important technology is to support business operations, I tend to give a lot of advice. Also when you’re a tech geek, people ask you for a lot of advice.
One recommendation I am extremely vocal about is that dealerships need more wireless capability.
But it occurred to me that when some dealers hear, “You need more wireless! You need more wireless” they think about Chicken Little running around yelling “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
I also realize the term “more wireless” doesn’t mean a whole lot to anyone if they don’t know what level of wireless they're currently at. If you don’t know how much you have, how do you know how much to add?
So I created a short primer for dealers so they understand what I’m talking about.
Why More Wireless
In the last few years, the number of connected devices in a dealership has more than doubled. Dealerships are experiencing increased demand for wireless on all fronts, including:
- Employee and customer phones and tablets.
- Tools to perform over-the-air vehicle computer system updates.
- Mobile tablets in the service lane.
- Leasing and sales tools designed for mobile devices.
- Laptops connecting to cloud-hosted CRM and DMS applications.
- Smart appliances such as coffeemakers and soda machines.
- OEMs including Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Mercedes-Benz pushing location-based technologies and programs.
A typical dealership with 80 to 100 employees now has hundreds of connected devices. And the trend is accelerating. In the next few years, expect the number of connected devices at a dealership to double or triple again.
Sales and service processes get bogged down and productivity suffers with insufficient wireless capability.
How many more wireless access points does a dealership need, and where should they be put? It depends on a dealership’s current level of wireless capability.
Level 1: Shop and Guest
About 25% of dealerships we work with are at this level. This means from one to six or so wireless nodes in a store, probably two or three in service, one in sales one in the parts department.
Level 2: Data Throughout
About 70% of dealerships we work with are at this level. This means wireless access throughout the entire dealership. This level of coverage typically doesn’t extend to the lot, although there may be some outside access close to the building. Depending on size, a dealership will need anywhere from six to 20 wireless access nodes for this type of coverage.
Level 3: Voice
This level is basically Level 2 with the addition of roaming voice capability for wireless phones. However, most people now use mobile phones, so we’re seeing less and less demand (3%) for this level of coverage.
Level 4: Location Based
Not many dealerships are at this level yet, but this is where the industry is headed. This level is what I refer to as “Big Brother” capability, or extreme high-density wireless coverage. This is for dealers who want to use location-based software that tracks customer and employee movements on the premises.
This level provides coverage over the entire lot. It requires a minimum of 25 access nodes per store. At about $800 per access node (that are good for about three to five years), this doesn’t come cheap.
Adding more wireless access nodes won’t solve all connectivity problems. Yes, the number of nodes is important, but there are other factors that impact wireless speed and coverage.
Here are six recommendations:
1. Get a site survey. Just about any IT provider can conduct one. This gives you a “heat map” showing the strongest coverage areas and where more are needed.
2. Upgrade to Wireless N. About 75% of dealerships have purchased new wireless access points in the last couple years, which means they have Wireless N, referring to the latest 802.11n standard, which processes signals faster and more efficiently.
3. Get cloud-managed wireless. About 85% of dealerships now have it. In the old days (several years ago) each node had to be individually programmed. Now all can be managed from the cloud, which offers more security, efficiency and reduced downtime.
4. Don’t rely on signal strength. Just because a device has strong signal strength doesn’t mean it is getting optimal data throughput. You can have 100 phones connected to a wireless node, and all may show 100% signal strength. But that doesn’t mean that wireless node readily can handle all the data from those devices. Strength does not equal speed.
5. Upgrade switches. About 40% of dealerships have done this in the last couple years. Many people blame slow performance on the Internet, WiFi or PCs, when in reality it’s their switches that are slowing things down.
Historically dealerships have used switches with 100 MB of throughput per switch. Today’s data demands require switches with a minimum 1,000 MB of throughput per switch.
A one Gigabyte switch can cost from $2,500 to $5,000 and accommodate about 50 devices. Most dealerships will need at least two to cover the entire store. The good news: They should last about a decade.
6. Do it right the first time. If you’re wondering how many access nodes to purchase and what upgrades you need to make to your network, err on the side of more. If you don’t get it right the first time, it’s not as simple as plugging in more access nodes. All network components must be re-balanced and re-programmed.
So now you know.
Erik Nachbahr is president and founder of IT firm Helion Automotive Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected]