Faster mobile download speeds made available by 4G networks will be a boon for companies. But it's not all smooth sailing, and higher speeds could often mean higher costs.

Technology Spectator

As we hurtle towards a converged world of tablets and cloud computing many businesses are being outpaced by the speed of change. One only need look at the current state of play in the newspaper, TV and retail sectors to see how mobility, apps and the internet have changed consumer expectations and behaviour.

Given the rather unrelenting nature of this change no one can rest on their laurels, not even the telcos. However, every cloud has a silver lining and the factors driving the current shift provides every business with its own set of opportunities.

But what is at the core of this growth?

Telecommunications is an integral cog of this growth engine and the sector’s impending entry into the 4G space is going to make telcos more important than ever before. Telcos have driven greater broadband speeds and provided greater download capacities. More importantly, broadband speeds in the wireless sphere have increased to unbelievable speeds and have (for the most part) been coupled with a commensurate increase in download allowances. While the industry makes inroads in developing 4G mobile networks across Australia, businesses are already feeling the impact, both positive and negative.

We will start with the positives.

Mobility & convergence

We have all sat by impressed by the speed of iPad uptakes. In business, this transition has been vast. While tablet computing is not ubiquitous, it will be as the medium evolves and starts to replace a large proportion of personal computers. For businesses this is changing traditional cost structures and opening up new possibilities.

These devices are converging traditional technologies, so they can throw out expensive desktop licences (for example Microsoft Office and Windows) and divest from video conferencing solutions as these are built in and can be accessed from the web. Take a telephone with you and you can have a complete mobile office with access to everything you need anywhere in the world. The reality is really catching up to the hype.

International trading

The speed of data today lets businesses keep in contact with the rest of world from anywhere. This in turn can lead to changing cost structures, but moreover, in a connected world, there are new opportunities. Outsourcing is one example of where you can always be connected to a global workforce. Trading, buying and sourcing products from foreign lands is made a lot easier and you can compare prices in real time, or appear at any auction house anywhere in the world with complete access to documentation, HD video and photos of items for purchase.

Cloud computing

One the major benefits of this trend is the changes to cost structures. Business can host all of their information and have it backed up in the cloud. There’s no need for expensive hardware solutions or a management team to maintain it. Hosting all the applications and information at a central location also makes access easier. So again, hardware such as network firewalls are not required (provided the cloud host provides), there is no need to replicate the same architecture for each business as the cloud host can provide it for multiple businesses.

Then there is access, access to the desktop, applications, hosted VoIP phone, real time collaboration and the list goes on. These are not new concepts per se, but the way in which they can be accessed and the speed at which they can be accessed and the locations where they can be accessed are providing great opportunity. As speed and stability increases, the drive to applications will increase and when the risk decreases, the uptake will increase and prices will fall in turn.

However, let’s not forget the negatives.

Costs of data

While the convergent tools provide an opportunity to reduce and change some cost structures, there are other costs that will increase. Some off these costs are not capped and pose a substantial risk.

These costs are the costs of using 4G data itself. Mobile data is, on the whole, more expensive that wired data, and the tools to monitor, limit and track this data is not, at present, satisfactory to give you real time usage metrics and statistics. It is however, getting better. The increase desire and need to use mobile data will drive this cost. More devices will drive access charges and unless these costs are adequately managed and negotiated they can quickly lead to a nasty case of "bill-shock”.

Increase of network risk

When a business controls its own network, it is in control of many aspects (not all) of the points of failure and can have adequate contingencies in place. The move to a cloud based architecture supports mobility but the risks transfer from your own network and servers to someone else's.

This is often a very cost effective path to pursue but what if the cloud host goes broke, suffers a failure and a business loses access to its data. The trade-off in this sense is cost versus control and hence risk versus cost. The more you pay, the more you control and the less your risk. The real question, which will be answered in time, will be whether you could implement your own "cloud” solution?

Lack of security

One of the real concerns over wireless and the influx of smart devices used to access wireless data is security. Is the wireless signal more capable of interception? By having more information on portable devices do we risk losing our data too easily or are we at increased risks of others being able to intercept it more easily. The more pertinent questions revolve around access into corporate VPNs and interception of VOIP based calls.

These are real concerns that are currently weaknesses in the devices themselves and the levels of encryption on wireless connections. There will no doubt be a push for stronger encryption at a near juncture, but that may add latency to wireless connectivity and overheads to the IP layer, driving even more data usage. Lastly, the issue is of being on the move all the time having conversations and reading confidential information in public. You never know who you are sitting next to and the more you do in public, it becomes evermore likely that the person sitting next to you is not sitting there by accident.

Tony Simmons is the managing director and founder of The Full Circle Group, an independent telecommunications consultancy and software firm focused on Telco expense costs and management.

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