Magazine Article | January 1, 2006

Give Serial Ports An IP Makeover

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Simplify your POS connections.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, January 2006

As the tech industry continually promotes the latest and greatest hardware (and software) upgrades, it often puts merchants in a winless situation. Retailers shouldn’t be forced to chase advances in technology instead of making the smartest use of their existing networks and equipment.

When it comes to optimizing the POS, many merchants are unaware that basic serial device servers (or black box serial-to-IP [Internet Protocol] converters) can allow them to reap the benefits of today’s IP applications without falling victim to costly upgrades. Remote polling of ECRs (electronic cash registers) or moving transaction processing online are but two applications that can save merchants money on telecom overhead. It’s as simple as giving your old serial ports an IP makeover.

POS Network Connections Simplified
Merchants who want to link ECRs to a single PC for local and remote polling were often faced with serious networking challenges. It used to be that if you wanted to poll your register from a remote location such as a home office, you would have to connect your ECR at the store to a modem set in auto-answer mode, and then tie up a phone line while you dialed in. Maintaining a phone line just for ECR polling, however, is often more expensive than it’s worth. If you have Internet access, you can use your existing serial connections to simply connect any serial device server to your register and then poll the ECR over the Internet without ripping apart your POS system or rolling out brand-new Ethernet-enabled equipment.

The same is true when it comes to processing transactions online. Many merchants are of the belief they need to upgrade their POS terminals to move their transactions to IP. Instead of buying all new equipment, merchants seem to instead prefer to conduct credit and debit card validations the traditional way — through a modem link to their payment processing company. Today, this method has a number of drawbacks, including slower processing times that can clog throughput at the checkout. Customers have to wait while the modems dial and connect. Additionally, an overhead cost of supplying a dedicated phone line for the terminal to use is incurred.

Any retail operation with a static IP address can use a black-box device that can convert modem-based payment processing to IP-based payment processing. It is a great alternative to leased-line (telco) processing and/or buying Ethernet-enabled POS terminals. Why pay for phone lines when you can be online?

Black-box converters are typically designed for terminals that transmit transaction data over a serial port or RJ-11 phone jack interface (for models with built-in dial-up modems). If using a black-box converter to conduct transactions online, you must ensure the integrity of all your transactions while protecting the identity of your customers. Credit and debit card data should be encrypted with 128-bit SSL (secure sockets layer), the world standard for online security. IT investments, just like investments in any appliance, such as a stove, need to work for you and your operations for the long-term. Merchants need to be wary of jumping too quickly on the bandwagon of costly upgrades before doing the research. Alternatives are out there to connect simply.