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Comex automates reporting with handheld units on wireless LAN.

The Commodity Exchange, Inc. (Comex) is putting hand-held communicators on the trading room floor to increase the speed, accuracy and reliability of its Price Reporting System (PRS). They now have nearly 20 trading floor personnel - called "Price Reporters" - equipped with hand-held communicators.

Comex has expanded the number of goods it trades without adding staff and is saving about $200,000 per year in data entry salaries - while improving the validity of the information and increasing efficiency of the price reporting system.

This application is enabled by the integration of proven touch-screen technology with spread-spectrum radio technology to allow Comex employees to enter data and automatically send it to the PRS through a wireless LAN (local area network).

The Comex wireless LAN application uses technology developed by Granite Communications, Amherst, N.H. It integrates communications, microprocessor, software and display technologies into ergonomic, handheld, personal data communicators connected via a wireless networking system.

Each communicator fits in the palm of the hand and weighs less than 20 ounces. Comex employees on the trading floor can enter information easily in a space-constrained setting. The trading ring reporters are prompted by the communicator and enter information using the touch screen - with virtually no training required.

When a series of "buys" or "sells" results in a change in price for a given commodity, Comex is required to report that price change to the market on a timely basis. In the past, price reporters would listen for a price change and use hand signals to alert a trading floor supervisor, who would then call the price change through a headset to a data entry operator away from the trading floor.

The clerk would then enter the price into a minicomputer that would transfer the information across a high-speed ticker network to quote services and the wall display boards.

Trading ring reporters now send realtime price changes to the PRS, which displays the prices on trading floor screens and distributes the prices to traders through the market data services. The communicators send the data to the PRS over a wireless, spreadspectrum radio frequency LAN.

Arthur Markowitz, Comex's senior vice president, operations and systems, says, "We chose this solution after investigating alternative technologies, such as laptop, notebook and pen-based communicators. The robustness and reliability provided by the communications software allows us to substantially improve the performance of our PRS by accelerating the timeliness of reporting while improving on the reliability of the data.

"We are providing ring reporters with an enhanced tool that is incredibly easy-to-use in a hectic environment with severe space constraints, and they accepted the tool immediately," he says.

"The lightweight, wireless, handheld communicators enable Comex to reduce our costs while improving the speed and reliability of our reporting."

The communications software provides maximum reliability and throughput, even in an extremely harsh and noisy environment such as the Exchange floor in New York City.

Communications procedures

The VP5s communicate to a BS5 base station located on the ceiling of the trading floor. It transmits and receives data at speeds up to 121 kb/s and provides an RS-422 link to the host computer.

The Comex price reporting system provides instantaneous transmittal of price information into the Comex computer systems. This is accomplished through a combination of front-end PC, RF products, and advanced application software.

At the first stage is the PC, which is running communications software customized for this application by Micro Design Services. Here, data to and from the individual handhelds is converted into the proper format for either the host system or the handheld, depending on the intended direction of the data. The host system is connected to the PC and to the Links system.

The next stage is the HI5 base station controller card. This full-slot PC card provides the application program interface and protocol management between the PC applications and the base station. Using a high-speed (76.8 kb/s) RS-422 data line, the HI5 communicates data to a base station physically located on the ceiling of the trading pits.

The base station packetizes and then transmits the pricing data over the airwaves using spread spectrum transmission technology.

This proprietary protocol allows Comex to log up to 250 VP5s into a single base station simultaneously. Since each base station can be set to operate on any of four non-overlapping channels, or three overlapping channels within the 902-928 MHz band, multiple base stations can operate within range of each other without interference.

Comex particularly values this feature because it allows full redundancy by operating backup base stations simultaneously in case of failure. This technology also allows distant, or "fringe," pits to be covered using separate channeled bases.

Granite Protocol was designed to maintain throughput even as traffic load increases. As additional remote VP5 handhelds are put into service, end-to-end data throughput remains constant. Theoretical studies of the protocol indicate that the throughput will remain constant up to 250 units per base station, allowing Comex plenty of room for expansion of the wireless network.

The protocol provides better channel utilization and faster response time at light traffic loading than statistical time division multiplexing allows. It also provides better channel utilization at heavy traffic loading than contention protocols such as CSMCA.

The System RF communications is remote-to-base in a point-to-multipoint configuration, and the remote VP5s act as the master while the base station serves as the slave.

Comex tested message response time, and messages of various sizes were transmitted from each VP5 and received at the base station, where the messages were transmitted via the RS-422 interface to the HI5. The messages were then passed onto the PC applications and retransmitted back to the VP5.

With 56 VP5s logged onto a single base station transmitting a message roughly every 45 seconds, a 64-byte message took 0.9 seconds, a 512 byte message took 1.7 seconds, and a 1,024 byte message took 2.1 seconds. These times remained constant whether 6 VP5s were transmitting or whether 56 VP5s were transmitting the data, which shows that system-level throughput remains high regardless of traffic and usage patterns.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Granite Communications Inc.'s Price Reporting System VP5; Commodity Exchange Inc
Publication:Communications News
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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