The 4G network is fast and mostly adequate for existing enterprise needs, but that's not stopping IT pros from worrying about future viability. Here's how providers and customers see the issues.
When our partners atLight Reading came to us with the idea of fielding almost identical surveys to users of enterprise services and carrier providers on the future of mobility, we were at once intrigued and skeptical. We knew InformationWeek's readers would be happy to tell us what they want from mobile services, but could Light Reading really get carriers to say where they're headed? Turns out it could and did.
The results from 230 IT professionals involved in determining, procuring, or managing mobile services and from 67 mobile carriers show huge gulfs between what users want and what carriers think they want--and can provide. (The full report will be available in mid-November at InformationWeek Reports)
Surprisingly, very few carriers (9%) said they want to see data prices increase. The largest chunk (50%) would prefer to implement data caps to create a more manageable service. Some 21% said prices are too high, and 20% said they're at the right level. Not so surprisingly, data caps aren't popular with IT pros; 40% were OK with current prices but objected to data caps, and another 50% said prices are simply too high regardless of data caps.
When we asked IT pros how they feel about existing caps, 43% said they foresee problems and 37% said they already have had issues. Ninety percent of customers questioning pricing and 80% questioning limits on service don't indicate a happy user base--and data caps just make things worse.
If consumers hit such a cap, they can decide on the spot if they want to pony up more money for another chunk of data. But if corporate users hit a cap, they generally don't have permission to whip out the credit card for another 100 GB or so. And even if they did, Murphy's Law says you'll hit your data cap at the worst possible time, like when you're trying to book an order in front of a customer. The result is the need for fairly complex policies and usage monitoring that will come with their own costs.
For their part, carriers aren't just trying to drive more revenue--30% of respondents said they're trying to do just that, but another 47% said they want to provide better service and 23% want to reduce network congestion. Clearly, giving unlimited data doesn't mean there's an unlimited supply of bandwidth. At some point, something has to give.
Enterprise users expect that their employees will adopt tablets and smartphones somewhat faster than carriers do--though the differences in expected rate of growth are not by any means striking. What's more striking is the difference in opinion of the existing network. Roughly half of both carriers (47%) and enterprise customers (52%) said that 4G networks are adequate but need improvement. A quarter of IT pros said the current 4G network is "very good and meets our needs," while a much larger 40% of carriers said that. Some 20% of IT pros said the existing infrastructure is barely cutting it, while only 10% of carriers come to the same conclusion. This disparity seems like a formula for customer disappointment.
IT pros see two areas in particular where existing networks don't cut it. First, for rural/remote usage, where data coverage can be spotty to nonexistent--46% of survey respondents said this is their biggest issue. The second biggest concern, at 29%, is with data caps and avoiding excessive overage fees.
There's not much to be done about the first issue, but in the second case, both carriers and IT pros see Wi-Fi as an off-load medium and a way to expand network coverage. Only 12% of the carriers in our survey don't plan to use Wi-Fi this way; just 26% of IT pros said they preferred not to use Wi-Fi where they can to augment 4G services.
As carriers improve their mobile networks and enterprise users rely more heavily on apps that require wireless connectivity, how confident is each group that the 4G wireless infrastructure will do the job?
Not surprisingly, more carriers are "very confident" than are enterprise planners (38% vs. 15%). However, 70% of enterprise customers said they're at least somewhat confident, while 56% of carriers said the same. The rest--just 15% of enterprise pros and 6% of carrier pros--see a very bleak picture for carrier wireless networking.