4G networks pose mobility management challenges for the enterprise

The consumerization of IT means employees have high expectations when doing work outside of the office. They expect seamless access to business data and applications, but while organizations have lots of experience extending their network over WiFi to deliver that capability, they are still struggling with supporting employees of over carrier networks they don’t own.

“The curious thing is that consumer applications are built with a set of assumptions of networking technologies available to them, but they don’t exist when you look at enterprise applications,” said Steve Fallin, senior product manager for mobility at NetMotion Wireless. “When LTE spread, the bar for being productive in the field got higher.”

The closer field personnel can get to a customer, the happier the customer is, and the business gets more ROI from that employee. He said public safety, insurance, home healthcare and logistics are all sectors where mobility is now critical to providing field personnel with the tools and data they need to get work done. For EMTs, it’s a no brainer. And in the heavily regulated oil and gas sectors, line repair staff need to know exactly what’s supposed to where and what exactly needs fixed.

“Enterprises are jumping to notion of hyper-mobile workforce,” said Fallin. And it’s not just about making workers more effective, efficient and productive. Making employees mobile by allowing them to work from home or on the go can help lower costs by reducing a company’s real estate footprint. “Workers like the flexibility.”

With high speed mobile networks, he said, this all becomes a possibility, but it means enterprises have to contend with 4G networks owned by carriers, as well as other WiFi networks out of their control. A coverage gap on a mobile call is an annoyance, but if an employee loses data going through a train tunnel, they don’t want to lose valuable work already done, said Fallin. “Our technology stabilizes the application even when the network might not be there.

“When you go mobile things begin to change,” he added. “You don’t own the networks you have to manage. Carriers don’t give you access to switches, routers and firewalls.”

NetMotion just released Mobility 11, its mobile VPN platform, which includes a number of new features, such as support for Apple’s OS X, which is increasingly being used in business environments, as well as expanded Android management options. It also added more language support, including clients for Japanese, French, German, Italian, Spanish and English. “We think there’s a growth market to be able to address mobile workers in the language they understand.”

In addition to being able to scale up to support a distributed and often global workforce, said Fallin, enterprises need to keep an on data usage. The NetMotion platform’s compression and optimization features can save customers as much as 30 per cent off their carrier’s data bill, he said. “They’re moving the same information but using less bytes to do it.”

Built-in policy features also help manage data usage. “If you are paying someone’s data bill, you don’t want someone watching Netflix while they are on the cellular network.”

Fallin said a lot of mobile workers are specialists who are focused on the task at hand, and if they have to fuss with technology, including reliable and secure connectivity while in the field, they are going to be less productive in their job. “We’re trying to get technology out of their way to maximize productivity.”

As 5G becomes widespread, Fallin said NetMotion expects a broader range of industries to come online, with speciality industries such as public safety and emergency services having already laid the groundwork in terms of security and encryption guidelines.

While LTE connectivity is generally associated with smartphone and providing consumers with a fast, data rich user experience, LTE networks do have potential to support enterprise applications. According to 451 Research, LTE’s worldwide footprint has grown to 422 networks in 143 countries, a footprint that can become a platform for innovation and growth in applications such as cloud computing, mobility in the workforce, and the Internet of Things.

There are actually dozens of ways LTE can be incorporated into an enterprise network; to date, most have used it as bandwidth on-demand. Next-generation WANs are incorporating high-speed LTE from multiple carriers as a parallel network that can be privately managed and segmented. Parallel networks that leverage LTE, rather than MPLS or Internet, might make sense for organizations that have specific types of devices that don’t need to be on the primary network.

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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