Empowering field-based employees is important to many midsized and enterprise organizations, and though many of the required productivity tools are available on devices such as smartphones and tablets, firing up a laptop and using a wider set of applications is still necessary at times.
In the past, this has been an expensive proposition. But companies have several communication options to help control costs if employees are working in areas with connectivity available to them.
With tethering, for example, field employees' phones or tablets broadcast a signal. These devices must have connectivity to the Web so they can pass along the gateway to another device, such as a laptop or non-3G or -4G phone. The number of devices that can simultaneously connect is limited based on the tethered hardware. And regardless of the number of consecutive attached devices, all those connected to this ad hoc network are limited by the total amount of bandwidth available to the host.
Many employees now have mobile hot spots, a boon for today's mobile users. I have been testing a 4G mobile hotspot by Clear. Speeds are nice, upwards of 10x1 at the peak, with 2x.5 near the slower end of the scale. I only carry four 802.x capable devices with me at any time; attaching all four simultaneously did not slow down the Clear box a bit.
Coverage in Orlando was great, fast, and low latency (with ping between 42ms and 88ms). My test in the middle of the Courtney Campbell Causeway (basically in the middle of Tampa Bay) was not successful, nor was I able to keep a consistent connection travelling at highway speeds between Tampa and Orlando. But when I was in the city itself or in a office, hotel, or restaurant, the device worked great. The cost is low, at $49 for the device and $49 a month for “unlimited” bandwidth.
Speaking of cellular service, are you still paying for separate services, such as digital navigation tools, from your provider? Don't forget to review the ever-growing menu of free or inexpensive apps available to employees. Waze provides voice-based directions and verbal feedback with the user (allowing for hands-free use), as well as real-time updates on police actions, traffic, and congestion, based on other users in your area. Waze is a cross between a social networking platform, traffic management and navigation tool, and mobile app. The price is right, as well: free.
Regardless of the budget available for your mobile workforce, you'll find a mix of services and devices to support your connectivity needs. Returns in increased sales, improved customer satisfaction, and enhanced employee productivity should outweigh the paltry costs presented by the new breed of devices and apps.
Corporate IT leaders should audit carrier agreements, test new products, and challenge historical approaches to mobile and remote users. Adhering to last year's status quo for functionality, price, and contract service level agreements (SLAs) guarantees a net loss for your IT budget expenditures -- and your organization's field employees. Challenge your budget expenditures and explore new technologies.
It is, after all, our first and most important job as IT professionals.
— Michael Starnes, CEO of Orlando-based Starnes Consulting, has been in the technology business for more than 20 years.