Insurance policies

Buying auto insurance is faster for B.C. motorists now that Barton Insurance Brokers Ltd.’s 40 mobile agents can wirelessly access the company’s corporate LAN over Telus Corp.’s CDMA 1X network.

Previously, Barton agents personally visited auto dealerships to sign up car buyers for insurance. Using the wireless system, motorists can now drive their new cars off the lot as soon as they make a purchase. The process is much quicker than the manual system, said Brad Henry, director of IT at Barton in Chilliwack, B.C.

Some of Barton’s mobile insurance brokers use Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd.’s BlackBerry devices and IBM Corp. ThinkPad notebooks, in conjunction with Sierra Wireless Inc.’s AirCard 555, which lets users connect to the office over the 1X network. It takes approximately 15 minutes for a customer to get approval and sign up for insurance, Henry said.

With Sierra’s AirCard 555, Barton’s brokers can take advantage of network speeds ranging from 100Kbps to 180Kbps — two or three times faster than a dial-up connection.

In 1999, Barton used Sierra’s AirCard 300, which was cellular digital packet data (CDPD)-enabled. “There were severe limitations both with speed and coverage,” said Greg Speakman of Sierra. “The speed was only about 19Kbps and the coverage was really only in Prince George and Abbotsford.”

With the 1X-enabled AirCard 555, Barton agents can connect from wherever there is cell phone coverage. But there are drawbacks. When Barton first hopped aboard the 1X network, there were few 1X-enabled devices being used, which meant that there was lots of shared bandwidth available. Now that everyone is using 1X devices on Telus’ network, network performance is getting much slower, which causes applications to time out.

But there is hope for faster speeds in an emerging technology dubbed Evolution Data-Optimized or Evolution Data Only (EVDO). EVDO is the next generation of CDMA networks and delivers speeds ranging from 300Kbps to 2.4Mbps, according to Verizon Wireless, which has already deployed EVDO in the U.S. Bell Canada has begun trials with EVDO.

Ultimately EVDO could get rid of the latency problems associated with 1X, Barton’s Henry said. But he is not planning to jump into this new technology without careful consideration. Henry plans to install Sierra Wireless EVDO PC cards as soon as these and the network become available for testing purposes.

Mark Quigley, an analyst at The Yankee Group Canada, said EVDO will not eliminate network overcapacity problems, since EVDO is just as vulnerable as are 1X networks. “Work will still need to be done to ensure applications are suitable to run over EVDO networks.”

Quigley said early adopters will likely use horizontal apps like e-mail.

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