Bell orders up wireless vending concept

Visitors to a conference centre in Kingston, Ont. are getting a taste of how to order a soda pop the futuristic way, thanks to a new, wirelessly enabled vending machine.

Guests at the Ambassador Conference Resort were able to use the drink dispenser as part of a trial of wireless vending technology from Bell Canada. Users can order their favourite beverages by simply swiping their hotel room key card through the machine’s card reader or by using any mobile phone. The cost of the drink is then tagged to the guest’s room bill for payment upon checkout.

The trial will last 90 days and is, according to a Bell statement, the first of its kind in Canada to combine mobile phone and card key technologies operating over a wireless network.

Bell is working in conjunction with Coca-Cola Bottling Co., and technology firms Kaba Ilco Inc., cStar Technologies and RSI International Systems Inc. cStar specializes in two-way, wireless data communication solutions for M2M (machine-to-machine, machine-to-men, machine-to-mobile) and mobile-commerce applications. According to the Toronto-based cStar’s Web site, the company develops and markets “communication products that wirelessly connect companies’ non-IT assets to their IT systems, enabling them to monitor, control and manage machines remotely, to automate various processes and to create value-added services.”

Winston Salem, N.C.-based Kaba Ilco makes access control products. RSI, of North Vancouver, B.C., provides property management and reservation systems to the hotel and resort industry.

According to Allan de Paulsen, senior associate director, Bell Canada Wireless Business Solutions, no future plans for this type of wireless vending technology have been put in place, but will depend on the findings Bell gets out of this trial.

“So far, the metrics have been positive,” he said.

According to Paulson, the network’s operation was fixed at 900 MHz so it does not interfere with the resort’s 802.11-based wireless local area network.

A total of eight machines at the hotel are equipped with the wireless capability. Drinks available include Coca-Cola beverages such as waters, juices, soft drinks, juice drinks, sport drinks and ice teas.

According to de Paulsen, a user unfamiliar with the process of ordering drinks by way of a cell phone would require no more than 30 seconds to complete their first transaction.

“[The cell phone capability] is also helpful for people at the hotel who might be there only for a conference and who aren’t staying at the hotel and would therefore not have a room key,” de Paulsen added.