June 13, 2013, 4:50 PM — In all our talk about mobile workstyles, it's also critical to think strategically about wireless access -- in other words, how you connect those mobile workers to the Internet.
Too often, enterprises overpay or fall back on old ideas when it comes to mobile access, under the rationalization of "we need to connect no matter what it costs." But two news announcements yesterday heralded what may be a big new trend in access -- namely, the expansion and improvement of the old standby Wi-Fi.
As a somewhat overlooked part of its product announcements at its developer conference, Apple went big in supporting the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, putting it into its new MacBook Air models as well as its Wi-Fi base station. What's big about 802.11ac? Not only will it theoretically support gigabit connection speeds, but it will also make life easier for end users by supporting roaming sign-on schemes. While it may take another year or so for all parts of the Wi-Fi ecosystem to get 802.11ac gear working, it's wise to start thinking now about a future where your mobile workers can connect at much faster speeds and in easier, authenticated fashion than they do now. Instead of just approving those expense reports for one-off Wi-Fi charges, look instead to aggregation plans where your workers can tap into the expanding networks of public and private Wi-Fi hotspots.
The second announcement had to do with a major expansion of hotspot access, when cable giant Comcast outlined plans to provide more public hotspots, via some new gear that provides a public Wi-Fi signal from its home-customer routers. The home-hotspot plan is just the latest move by big cable providers to expand their Wi-Fi presence. You may not know it, but the big cablecos are banding together to share hotspot access to their customers; there are some 150,000 cable hotspots out there today (they are a bit hard to find) and more are coming, as the cablecos try to satisfy customers frustrated by the slowness of the cellular networks.
What does all this mean for enterprise IT? That you should start looking harder at your wireless connectivity strategy, and plan for better and more available Wi-Fi, which often provides better connectivity at a lower price. And eliminates the "I don't want to pay that charge" problem that sometimes stifles mobile collaboration.