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Cost versus connectivity: The fundamental trade-off of the mobile enterprise

Cost is a governing factor for enterprise mobility, and it's a challenge to balance the cost of connectivity with bandwidth, performance, coverage, availability and security.

Several weeks ago, I was at a conference on the day that Verizon Wireless announced that it was rolling out its 1x EV-DO "Broadband Access" 3G wireless packet data service to fourteen cities in the United States. Until that point, Verizon's high speed wireless data offering was available to the lucky few in Washington, DC and San Diego, Calif. When the floor was opened to questions, a number of people shouted out one question -- "How much does it cost?"

I was sitting in a roomful of corporate IT managers, and cost was the only thing on their minds. They didn't care about burst rates and all the engineering that goes into building a 3G wireless network. They weren't asking about adapter cards and forward- and backward-compatibility. Instead, the business cases were unfolding in their heads as they tried to make the cost of the service reconcile with the business value of the connectivity. I asked a few people what they thought and one project manager responsible for delivering communications contracts to the public sector put it simply ," at $80 a month, I've got to think long and hard about Verizon's service. To be perfectly honest, I'm thinking about the T-Mobile HotSpot service at $20 bucks -- is it enough connectivity for our users?" Because wide area wireless networks are costly, IT managers are willing to consider trading off always-on connectivity for a lower cost.

At this conference, we found ourselves comparing notes on how we were skirting the hotel's $12.99 Internet access fee. My colleague confessed that he had gotten up early, turned on his laptop and driven around a local neighborhood until he found an open Wi-Fi network. "Worked just fine for my e-mail," he proclaimed.

The issue of connectivity seems to punctuate so many aspects of the mobile enterprise. On the topic of wide area wireless services, the decision boils down to a clearly defined set of wireless services that can be evaluated by their cost, coverage and reliability. For local area solutions, there are other issues at hand, because few wireless local area networks (WLAN) are delivered as services that are billed on a per-user per-month basis. As wireless routers drop in price, individuals are more apt to have a wireless LAN at home than they are to have one at work.

Corporate network administrators are quick to point out that security is such a large issue that it has slowed corporate adoption of WLAN technologies. In some cases, companies have turned off their wireless LANs pending further development of enterprise security policies and the underlying infrastructures. If we listen to the vendors, it's easy to believe that the issue of security is solely about technologies, but the reality is that good security starts with sound enterprise security policies. And in the end, security is just another dimension of cost. For example, ask yourself the question of how expensive your car insurance would have to be before you decide to self-insure.

At some point, self insurance is an option that any company is willing to take. But for wireless LANs security is not be the only issue, as signal propagation, interference and regulatory issues also govern the decision. Regardless of which issue limits the deployment of a wireless LAN, everything comes back to cost. How much is a company willing to spend to provide wireless LAN connectivity?

In some cases, the trade-off is as apparent as the earlier Wi-Fi/3G discussion, and in cases like healthcare, synchronization technologies provide a viable alternative to a full-time and always-on wireless LAN. One hospital I recently visited had a set of cubby holes with built-in infrared synchronization stations. As doctors, nurses and other professionals stopped in at the nursing station, they placed a PDA in the station and allowed it to synchronize data as they spoke with their colleagues.

For every technical challenge, there's a solution, and for every cost objection, there's a business case that provides a viable alternative. This remains one of the fundamental decisions of the mobile enterprise -- how much does it cost? And how available is it? Cost is a governing factor for enterprise mobility, and it's a continual challenge to balance the cost of connectivity with bandwidth, performance, network coverage, availability and security. I never cease to be amazed by the creative ways in which information technology managers continue to push the boundaries of cost and connectivity.


About the author:
Daniel Taylor is the co-founder and managing director of the Mobile Enterprise Alliance (MEA) – the voice of enterprise IT management. He is responsible for global Alliance development and outreach activities, and oversees a membership of nearly 650 in 32 countries worldwide. Dan works closely with the MEA Advisory Board to involve vendor members, enterprise IT managers and industry analysts in an ongoing dialogue with the mission of creating an active voice for the enterprise in the mobility marketplace.

About the MEA
: The Mobile Enterprise Alliance (MEA) is a global advocacy group promoting the business benefits of workforce mobility to enterprise end users and decision makers. The MEA offers free membership to IT professionals that provides a vendor-neutral and technology-independent clearinghouse for information about the mobile enterprise including news, case studies, whitepapers, industry research, business analysis tools, an awards program, discounts to industry events, and more. The MEA helps enterprise decision makers to make informed decisions about technical architectures within the context of enterprise business objectives. As a not-for-profit organization, the MEA is funded through dues from participating vendors, service providers and systems integrators. The MEA currently represents nearly 650 member organizations worldwide. More information can be obtained at

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