Magazine Article | March 17, 2009

What Do Today's Wireless Carriers Offer?

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Increased network speed allows advanced mobile applications, and carrier services can assist with technology choice and deployment.

Integrated Solutions, January/February 2009

As a consumer, I put a minimal to moderate amount of research and thought into the wireless carrier I chose for my mobile device. If, for a reasonable amount of money per month, my phone doesn't drop calls and my Web browser works, then I'm happy. However, for companies with a mobile workforce, much more consideration is involved in choosing a wireless carrier. There are many factors in the decision — which mobile device you want to use, which applications you'd like to run, and the location of your workforce and how far they travel are just a few. Understanding how network technology has advanced and what wireless carriers have to offer today is the first step to making the appropriate decision. I recently spoke with executives from three of the nation's largest wireless carriers to discuss how the networks have advanced in recent years and what those advancements mean to your business.

Increased Network Speed Allows Advanced Applications
Over the past few years, both GSM (global system for mobile communication) and CDMA (code division multiple access) wireless networks have advanced drastically in speed. GSM's HSPA (high-speed packet access) network boasts download speed of approximately 1.7 Megabits per second (Mbps), while CDMA's EVDO (evolution, data optimized) network enables peak download speed of approximately 2.4 Mbps. "Network advancements provide enterprises with a powerful platform to deploy mobile business applications by utilizing broadband-like speeds and simultaneous voice, video, and data services," says Igor Glubochansky, director, industry solutions at AT&T. Mobile workers are able to more quickly download files and use more complex, interactive mobile applications than ever before.

"Today's network capabilities enable a company's mobile workers to have an in-office experience outside the four walls," says Jay Olearain, associate director of enterprise data solutions at Verizon Wireless. "Older networks weren't fast enough to render a mobile work order in a timely manner, necessitating paper. Now, a company can combine CRM [customer relationship management] and ERP [enterprise resource planning] data into a single electronic work order and easily push it out to a mobile device." With the advanced throughput of the networks, these electronic work orders can be combined with turn-by-turn navigation to maximize field-worker efficiency and decrease fuel costs.

"Because of the advanced capabilities of today's network, there is corresponding advancement in both communications devices and software," says Butch Musselman, national director, industry business solutions at Sprint. "Devices have more sufficient memory, battery life, and durability, and software providers are taking advantage of network and device improvements by developing more complex and robust applications." And, as mobile devices and software continue to improve, their prices are lower than what they were a few years ago — which means that more and more businesses are able to leverage the technology to improve their businesses.

Take Advantage Of Wireless Carrier Services
The performance of the wireless network you choose is extremely important, but it isn't the only thing to consider during your wireless carrier selection. As technology advances and more options become viable, it can become a bit overwhelming to decide what will best fit your business' needs. Wireless carriers are aware of this, and many are advancing their service offerings to help you make the best technology choice and deploy it successfully. "Customers have demanded a shift from a transactional-focused relationship [where network performance and pricing are the core values] to a transitional-focused relationship [where understanding the customer's business is equally important]," says Musselman. "We try to be a resource in the company's technology evaluation process and offer support during implementation."

"The key for the enterprise is to build a close relationship with its carrier and leverage the mobility applications consulting teams to understand the technology and how it can be used to create value for business," says Glubochansky. Many carriers provide ROI or TCO (total cost of ownership) models to evaluate your investment in mobility applications, assist with pilot testing, and offer support during implementation. Some will assess your IT and mobile workforce environments to help you identify your business challenges and suggest what technology could best address those challenges. "We have an organization of solutions partners that we can pair up with our customers to develop custom mobility solutions," says Olearain. "A company can come to us with a business challenge they'd like to solve, and we'll match them up with the appropriate business partner that can help them choose and implement the right technology to do so." When evaluating wireless carriers, be sure to consider which services your wireless carrier provides for you to use as a resource.

What To Expect In The Future From Wireless Carriers
Going forward, the experts expect network speeds to continue to increase and applications to become more advanced. More work will be able to be done in the field or from home, which can save companies money on travel in tough economic times. How do you determine which wireless carrier will best support your company's mobile technology? That depends on what your company's individual technology and business goals are. Certain mobile devices are only compatible with certain carriers' networks, which is important to remember when you're evaluating. How far do your field workers travel? Are you sure your carrier's network coverage reaches as far as you need it to? Do you plan to grow your business internationally? Certain wireless carriers only provide coverage in the United States, while others are worldwide. There are many aspects to consider — many more than you or I could imagine thinking about when signing a contract with a carrier for personal use. Be sure to do your homework, and choose a carrier that best fits your company's current and future technology and business goals.