Wi-Fi is back! Or more accurately, it never went away. Years after hearing that Wi-Fi was made obsolete by 3G and, more recently, 4G, enterprises that support mobile employees-most companies today-are placing increasing importance on Wi-Fi connectivity.
What’s driving the change? Data and voice networks now cover most of the habitable globe. According to recent statistics from the GSM Association, more of the world’s population is now covered by commercial wireless signals (85 percent) than by the electrical grid (80 percent)!
And the number of mobile devices is exploding. Many mobile services are moving into the cloud. 3G networks are congested and slow. 4G is spotty. And roaming costs are prohibitive. Carriers worldwide are now looking to off-load data traffic to less expensive Wi-Fi networks.
All of these forces are driving the average mobile worker to an increased reliance on Wi-Fi.
The mobile data explosion
Today, less than three percent of all wireless traffic is voice, with data transmission consuming nearly all of the rest. Why? Mobile workers and consumers are using many more types of devices; new mobile applications are springing up every day; the number of locations where users can connect has skyrocketed; and the increased use of social media and video for both work and personal connections is flooding the airwaves.
The result of this surge in data traffic is near-capacity networks, which are now causing severe slowdowns in service and quality. Fewer mobile workers are satisfied with their carrier’s network coverage and service quality. The Q1 2012 iPass Mobile Workforce Report showed that satisfaction in mobile service fell from 87 percent in 2011 to 62 percent in early 2012. This drop was primarily due to dissatisfaction with data coverage and cellular network speed.
Device avalanche in a connected world
According to the same report, 54 percent of mobile workers now carry a tablet. That figure is expected to reach 80 percent in the coming year. Forrester predicts 126 million tablets will be used in the US alone by 2016. This growth will continue as enterprise employees take advantage of the benefits of a tablet-its portability, ease of use, and ability to access graphic and video content, regardless of location. For IT departments that provide tablets, these deployments require training to increase user productivity, qualifying applications, and investing in service plans.
Carrier costs are becoming caustic.
The costs absorbed by enterprises for carrier plans are skyrocketing. Prices are increasing to pay for the expansion of 4G, and data usage is stressing the existing infrastructure. With over 25 percent of mobile workers downloading more than a gigabyte of data each month, enterprises will begin to put caps on usage for their employees. In addition, carriers have been slow to respond to the multiple-device-per-subscriber trend, leaving enterprises to decide how to manage multiple plans per employee.
Roaming charges are out of control.
Data roaming costs will continue to grow as more employees use more mobile devices for work, use them in more places, and use them more often. Excessive roaming charges will remain a significant issue for mobile employees. Eighty percent of the respondents in the Q3 2011 iPass Mobile Workforce Report had received a roaming bill during the previous year. And for five percent, the total had exceeded a whopping $1,000. The most disturbing result was that over a fifth of all respondents did not even know what their roaming charges were, since their employers paid their bills.
Wi-Fi: bigger and better
Today, Wi-Fi is available on virtually every device. The average mobile worker now uses Wi-Fi on a smartphone for at least two hours per day, with 73 percent using a tablet and 83 percent their laptops for that two-hour period. According to the iPass Mobile Workforce Report, 80 percent of mobile workers were within range of Wi-Fi for more than eight hours each day.
And mobile employees are willing to pay for Wi-Fi. One third of today’s mobile workers would be willing to pay for either a worldwide or regional Wi-Fi plan, and an additional 26 percent would pay a per-use fee as part of their existing mobile plan.
Strategies for moving forward
Enterprises need to understand the current needs of their mobile employees, and must develop mobility strategies to support them. To maximize productivity, employees need the ability to stay connected 24/7. Enterprises must put in a scalable and adaptable infrastructure that can easily accept new devices and technologies. Devices must be able to move between all available networks seamlessly-whether they are carrier-based, public hotspots, or private Wi-Fi networks. And this needs to be a simple experience for the multitasking worker.
IT departments can make it easier for mobile workers to connect to public Wi-Fi networks. But public Wi-Fi is riddled with security risks and performance issues. Many free Wi-Fi sites have become overrun with users; as a consequence, the bandwidth per user has declined and the user experience has deteriorated significantly. For nonsecure Wi-Fi connections, enterprises should enforce a requirement to run anti-virus software and connect to the Internet through a VPN before accessing corporate data, whether for enterprise-owned or personally owned devices.
Wi-Fi is back. Make sure your organization is ready.
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