Magazine Article | September 1, 2002

Network Connectivity 101

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Dumping dial-up for network connectivity? Before you choose a network provider, be sure to compare true needs and costs.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, September 2002
James Stroud

If you're a retailer or transaction processor and you are migrating from dial-up to network connectivity, you're making the right move. Network connectivity is a faster, more reliable, less costly way to support electronic transactions, back office applications, and device monitoring. The numbers of electronic payment transactions and back office applications a merchant must support are at an all-time high and growing fast. It is no secret that many large and small retailers are dumping dedicated dial-up phone lines for network connectivity.

With today's technology and the right expertise, network connectivity can link existing POS (point of sale) and back office devices to a host processor, corporate network, Internet service provider, or other application service providers (like a payroll service) through a single "data pipe." It enables transaction times that are up to 10 times faster than dial-up and provides up to 99.9% connection reliability. No matter where a retailer is located, some form of network connectivity is currently available. But beware, not all network connectivity providers are the same, and not all solutions are complete.

Educate Yourself Prior To Investing
Whether you're considering TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol) over terrestrial or wireless frame relay, a VSAT (very small aperture terminal), or a VPN (virtual private network) connection, you should know what you need for a complete managed network connectivity solution. This knowledge can help you compare the true costs behind different service offerings and ultimately save you big money, not to mention time and aggravation. As you compare the services (and fees) offered by different network connectivity providers, use the following guidelines to help identify your needs before you invest.

  1. Look for experts who understand your options. The provider should be able to offer a choice of service options, so you can choose the network connectivity service package that meets the specific volume and type of transactions you must support - both now and as your needs change. This keeps connectivity efficient and economical.
  2. Network design, implementation, and integration services should be included in the network provider's offering. If these services are not included, the costs should be detailed and itemized for you. The network provider also should have the latest technology to connect your existing POS and back office systems directly into a national TCP/IP over frame relay network and instantly route transactions directly to a specific host, processor, or the Internet.
  3. Use existing devices. You should be able to connect to the network service using your existing POS and back office devices. This protects your installation, integration, and training investments, while allowing you to take advantage of the speed and reliability that TCP/IP over frame relay and satellite technology can deliver.
  4. Equipment and installation should be included. To ensure that you never need to pay for hardware, equipment repairs, or purchase upgrades, all equipment and installation required to connect your POS and back office devices to the network should be owned by the network provider and provided to you with a guarantee to be fully operational.
  5. How will you manage network connectivity? Network connectivity is only as good as its speed and reliability. Unless you're willing to set up your own network operations center, only consider providers that offer managed network connectivity. This means the network provider monitors your connections for you and guarantees performance, reliability, and uptime. Expect no less than three- to five-second guaranteed transaction times, end-to-end network monitoring that is available 24/7, 99.8% network availability, guaranteed four-hour network restore time, and proactive network alerts within 10 minutes of an outage.

Making an investment in managed network connectivity for your business is a big decision. You must expose all hidden costs before you sign on the dotted line. This way, your network rollout will come in on budget and without surprises.