Enterprise IT Watch Blog

Mar 29 2010   7:00AM GMT

Weighing the Real Cost of Mobile Broadband

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Should you take the mobile plunge if you haven’t already? While many companies’ workforces are wired with the latest gadgets, IT departments have occasionally been hesitant to jump on board for a number of reasons. Today’s guest post – by Tim Scannell, editorial director of sister site TechnologyGuide.com – outlines why 4G might mean it’s time to re-think corporate wireless strategy.

One strong theme at this year’s CTIA conference, which wrapped up last week, was the evolution of mobile broadband.   Loosely defined, this refers to everything and anything traditional broadband offers, but accessible through a mobile device – in the case of the CTIA cognoscenti, this specifically related to small, handheld systems.

Up until very recently, this has pretty much been a blue-sky concept since there were only a handful of devices that were really capable of providing a rich browsing experience.  Also, the browser software still had a way to go in terms of development, and cellular infrastructures just weren’t up to snuff when it came to fast and reliable service.

All of that is changing rapidly, however.  At CTIA, there were a number of interesting and powerful devices that were capable of operating across emerging 4G wireless networks – like the HTC EVO 4G, that will reportedly be the first smartphone available in the U.S. with built-in WiMAX (which, in many cases, provides much more reliable wireless access than cellular, particularly in congested urban areas). The new HTC system also runs Google’s Android OS and has a very large high-resolution display.

Newer classes of mobile computers – like netbooks – are also catching on in the small business and small enterprise markets, especially as the numbers of mobile workers increase and efforts continue to extend customer relationship management and internal information resources out to the point of customer contact.  The number of online consumers who own a netbook has increased from 10 percent last year to 15 percent this year, with most people using a netbook as a second device and not a replacement to a notebook computer, according to a recent survey.

Tablet PCs are also finally finding their niche in mobile business computing, spurred by interest in the soon-to-be-shipped Apple iPad.  Fifty seven million “media tablet PCs”  are expected to ship in 2015 according to analysts at ABI Research, which is roughly thirteen times the 4 million expected to ship this year.

As prices for mobile system plummet and the wireless infrastructure becomes more reliable and varied with converged connectivity options (cellular, WiFi, WiMAX, etc.), it makes sense for companies of all sizes to have a mobile solutions strategy.  Yes, there are some significant challenges, like mobile management, service and support, security and developing a collaborative strategy.  But the benefits can be huge in terms of getting closer to customers and speeding transactions.

Since every company is different, it is difficult to come up with a ‘one size fits all‘ return on investment (ROI) formula that can quickly validate initial purchases, training, support and other functions.  Focusing too much on the cost of implementation and operations can also be a mistake – especially in a down economy where the mandate is slashing expenses rather than adding to expenditures.

To get a more realistic and long-term picture (as well as convince upper management a mobile strategy is working), an increasing number of companies are instead measuring the efficiencies created by a mobile strategy.  At a major magazine distribution company, for example, the goal is to use mobile solutions to increase the efficiencies of every worker by about 5% – saving about 24 minutes of wasted time per day.  When you translate that savings in time into dollars and extend it across hundreds or thousands of mobile workers, the cost savings can be in the millions, notes the IT director.

The real question to consider then is not how much implementing mobile systems and services will cost, but what the expense will be if you do not take the plunge and make mobile broadband an integral part of your business strategy.

If you’re a fan of Tim’s writing, be sure to check out his soon-to-be-launched blog, Technology Guide Lines, hosted right here on IT Knowledge Exchange.

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