3 min read

The Convergence Of 3G/4G And Wi-Fi

As carriers off-load traffic to WLANs and hotspots, IT needs to mind security and performance.
Burning Through Bandwidth

Another question is how to control what application accesses what access medium. Enterprise applications like email don't consume that much data, but what's to stop an employee from watching The Walking Dead over 3G during lunch on his smartphone? Short of an actual zombie apocalypse, not a thing.

To control costs, some IT teams we work with restrict bandwidth-hogging applications such as video to Wi-Fi connections. Otherwise, users could quickly burn through their data plans. Without some form of policy enforcement, though, like that provided by mobile device management systems from Good Technology, MobileIron, NetMotion Mobility, and Sybase Afaria, IT has little control over how users consume data, or on what network. Even with MDM, policy enforcement is complicated when IT has to support employee-provided devices that span multiple platforms.

And even if we could get all data traffic off 3G and onto enterprise WLANs when employees are on site, that still wouldn't solve all of our problems. 3G data consumption may go down, but now there's an increased load on the WLAN. If the enterprise network was designed with the minimum number of access points, or 100- Mbps Ethernet instead of 1-Gbps Ethernet for backhaul, IT might have to beef up the WLAN to accommodate new mobile device traffic.

Still, we expect most IT teams would rather invest in their own networks than hand those dollars over to an operator in overage charges.

Finally, as Wi-Fi networks proliferate and operators implement automatic handoffs to hotspots, a new type of problem could emerge: Namely, what Wi-Fi network should the device connect with, especially when several are available? The device could see an operator-provided hotspot and automatically connect with it, even though there might be an alternate Wi-Fi network that IT would prefer using. Perhaps that alternate network has better security or performance. We don't see this as much of a problem yet, but be aware of the algorithms devices use to connect to ensure that they're compatible with IT requirements. For now, the answer is education; usually the order in which Wi-Fi networks are presented in the connection management configuration screen is the order in which connections are made. Ensure that users know to avoid potentially insecure links.

Today's challenges with 3G/4G and Wi-Fi may be annoying, but they're largely manageable. And, thanks to various new specifications, things could get a lot better. The bad news is that it may take years for these improvements, which we discuss in our full report, to fully come online. In the meantime, forward-looking IT teams should plan accordingly. Wi-Fi integration will become more seamless and more secure, and connectivity may consume less power. Until then, pay attention to policies, consider an MDM suite if you don't have one, educate users, and provide mobile VPNs where appropriate.

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