Imperial Fleet Services has embarked on a pilot project that sees employees of one of South Africa’s major banks make their daily commute from their homes in Centurion to Sandton on "broadband buses" that serve as offices on wheels. Nashua Mobile has supplied and integrated the onboard technology.

The buses transport employees to and from a central point in Centurion to the banking group's Sandton office, allowing them to get on with the day's work during the time they'd normally be stuck in traffic. Following the success of the pilot, Imperial Fleet Services is aggressively rolling out the broadband bus as a commercial service under the Amasondo iBuzz brand.

Both vehicles are outfitted with cellular Internet connectivity from Vodacom, notebooks, wireless LAN connectivity and Microsoft productivity software. The solution is a showcase for Nashua Mobile's partnership with Microsoft and for its mobile office services.

Each bus has a 9Mbps Internet connection that offers enough bandwidth for 40 PC users to comfortably browse the Web, use collaboration and messaging software, and collect email. In future, Nashua Mobile hopes to add a voice service to the broadband bus that allows commuters to log into the office telecom infrastructure to pick up messages and join conference calls.

The congestion on the Pretoria-Johannesburg highway is taking an enormous toll on the productivity at many South African companies because their employees are either late to work or exhausted by 90 minutes of stop-start travel by the time they arrive.

The bank involved in the pilot project alone has some 800 employees who need to travel from Pretoria to Sandton every day. By giving these employees the option of travelling to work on the bus, the bank hopes to improve productivity as well as retain staff who might rather leave the company than face the daily commute.

For employees, the benefits are equally obvious. Turning the commute into part of the working routine effectively gives them two to three hours extra free time each day. It also reduces their stress levels and allows them to save on travel costs. Employees pay a fee to use the bus, which is estimated to be half the cost of travelling to work in their own vehicles. The bank has pool cars available for bus commuters so that they can still get around once they arrive at the office.

Mark Taylor, MD of Nashua Mobile, says: "This solution illustrates that the world of wireless and mobile work has finally arrived after years of hype. Apart from one or two small dead zones on the highway, the bank’s employees are able to seamlessly access network services and be productive throughout their journey to work.

"As traffic on the highway continues to grow and office rental becomes more expensive, more South African companies will look at innovative remote and mobile solutions to allow employees to be productive away from the confines of the office."

Following the success of the pilot, the bank has given Imperial Fleet Services the nod to extend the service by adding more routes and buses. Imperial Fleet Services is in discussions with a number of other major South African companies that are interested in offering a 'broadband bus' service to their employees. The service is offered through the group's Amasondo black economic empowerment joint venture.