Do wireless standards matter?

Businesses are realising that real-world performance of wireless networks impacts the real-world performance of their planned mobile applications

Do standards matter? Specifically, do wireless data standards matter? For the consumer wireless market, the answer is probably no.

Consumers generally respond to the feature set or form factor of the wireless device when selecting a carrier. In the business market, however, where the application that has to ride the wireless network is the important consideration, standards can matter very much in terms of how businesses want to use the network.

In recent research into the use of unified communications and collaboration, Nemertes Research found that enterprise IT executives are concerned about the wireless standards being used by carriers and are even willing to change operators based on the technology choices they make. Thirty-eight percent of the executives Nemertes interviewed said they would definitely factor the wireless standards being adopted by carriers into their unified communications planning. .

But why? After all, carriers are busily deploying ever-faster networks, rapidly evolving to 3G and pre-4G technologies. Transfer rates are increasing as this evolution occurs. Businesses should be happy, right? Well, maybe.

Latency and coverage trump raw bandwidth

Carriers need to look at this evolution from the standpoint of the business customer. Transfer rates aren't always the issue. In many cases, considerations such as latency and coverage are more important than raw bandwidth. What many businesses are realizing is that the wireless standard and where it is being deployed can have a profound impact on the utility of a wireless-enabled mobility application.

For enterprises, many of which require their mobile employees to have a very large area of operation, having access to HSPA 3.5G in certain markets may not be good enough. In such a case, selecting a carrier that provides the somewhat less capable EV-DO 3G -- but over a wider area -- may be a better choice. This is especially true if the coverage involves a greater number of cell sites, since proximity to the site often determines the latency characteristics of the network.

Enterprises are increasingly asking for a peek under the hood of the carrier's network. They want to see coverage maps that are more than simple graphics and are asking for detailed information on transfer rates and latency by geography. Many are asking for detailed information on the carrier's evolution plans, where the evolution will take place, and the impact of that evolution on things like wireless capital investments.

This means that carriers need an approach to enterprise IT organizations that is different from their approach to a consumer. Rather than talking exclusively in terms of features, the carriers need to disclose more about how those features will be delivered and, just as important, how the evolution of wireless will affect those features.

Carriers also need to fully understand how their business customers will use their networks. Carriers should certify their networks for different classes of applications -- from simple email and texting all the way to dedicated VPN tunnels, which can be highly sensitive to things like latency or dropped connections.

Carriers must understand that wireless is becoming a fundamental component of enterprise IT infrastructure and is increasingly falling under the same budgeting and, more importantly, planning processes.

Fifty-six percent of IT executives Nemertes talked to indicated that they either have or are developing mobility plans. These plans involve deciding which applications will be wirelessly enabled and what budget will be devoted to mobility integration. Carriers that want to sell to this evolving market should ensure that they are a part of assisting in enterprise mobility planning development. Ensuring that enterprise customers have the information they require – specifically, information on standards and the capabilities they enable -- is an essential first step.

About the author: Mike Jude is a research analyst with Nemertes Research.

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