|Issue:||Europe I 2009|
|Topic:||When 3G is faster than fixed line|
Michel Robert, the Managing Director of Claranet UK, his experience is in business development and marketing with particular expertise in the IT solutions sector. Before joining Claranet UK, Mr Robert was the Solution Director at Dimension Data, a global IT services and solution provider. Mr Robert has also worked in senior consulting and marketing positions for Forward in London (now part of WPP Group) and The Rouse Company, a North American property development company. Michel Robert has a Bachelors of Arts Degree in International Studies from Kenyon College, USA.
Obtaining immediate access to high speed communications when setting up a new business location is a challenge. Traditional technology can take a month or two to install, but an interim 3G mobile wireless solution takes only days. The 3G installation can later serve as a low cost backup or give field workers anywhere full access to corporate networks, data and applications. Since 3G Internet-based solutions must often interoperate with MPLS-based private networks, data encryption and other security measures are needed.
Rapid connection Time is money when it comes to getting telecommunications services up and running at a new business location. In today’s global knowledge economy, every day that an office is not connected to the corporate network and the rest of the world is a day that it is not able to generate revenue, collaborate with customers and fellow employees or exploit opportunities. Two factors determine the time it takes a supplier to provide telecommunications service: the time it takes to process the order and the time it takes to install the solution. Installation time, though, can be radically shortened by using 3G technology as an interim means of connectivity. Installing a high-grade telecommunications service often takes between 30 to 60 days, from procurement to ‘go-live’. This substantial delay is something that, until recently, simply had to put up with and worked around. While this problem may seem marginal, its impact can be profoundly negative, and can reduce business agility and hamper growth. As the recent economic slowdown has shown, much can happen in a matter of a few months. Now more than ever, improving business agility and maximising growth opportunities are essential to survival. 3G to the rescue Rather than taking weeks, imagine the positive effects of a new site being connected and operational within a matter of days. This is now possible thanks to ongoing advances in 3G technology and improved network coverage and performance, driven largely by increasing consumer demand for mobile broadband. A 3G network solution can be rapidly deployed at a new business location to provide suitable connectivity while the primary telecommunications service is being implemented. This means an office can be open for business almost immediately. Although, in this instance, it is only intended as an interim measure, the 3G solution can be useful even after the primary service is activated. It can be used as a back up, providing a passive link to the network if needed. In this way, it can serve as a fail-safe recovery mechanism, and even a business continuity solution for smaller businesses. By using the 3G network on a pay-as-you-use basis, the costs for having it available are kept to a minimum. As 3G can bring connectivity to any location which has 3G coverage, it can also be used to create a mobile ‘office in a box’. This mobile solution lets users at almost any location connect rapidly and securely to the corporate network and provides a user experience equivalent to sitting in the office. We have used office in a box tools for external workshops to circumvent the hotel WiFi and avoid premium usage fees! Events of this type – conferences, training sessions and workshops for example – where a mobile solution providing high performance connectivity is invaluable, will see rapid 3G uptake in the future. 3G challenges Most commonly available business grade 3G services offer Internet access, but most modern corporate private networks use MPLS instead of Internet connections. Using 3G therefore means that an Internet-based Virtual Private Network (VPN) must interoperate with an MPLS-based private network. This gives rise to a number of security issues that need to be addressed. For example, the VPN must be encrypted over the 3G connection and data needs to be encrypted while in transit. Other standard security measures, such as ensuring the site has updated security software and firewalling, are also necessary. Equipment on the customer premises that enables the 3G service should be physically secure as well; direct access to it must be controlled and it must be possible to take it out of service remotely if stolen. Remote access using mobile connections need to be controlled through access rights and proper authentication. While 3G is well suited for data transfer, it does not always work optimally with applications that are latency sensitive. Latency, or the time it takes for data to cross the network, is higher over a 3G than a fixed line network. Applications such as Citrix and Microsoft Exchange will produce a noticeable delay even with a small amount of additional latency. WAN optimisation technology, which improves the transit of data over the network can alleviate this to some extent, but this is only a partial solution. For best performance, it is important that both customer and supplier understand how the business works, what applications it uses and how it uses them. The 3G solution may need to be optimised for certain applications, and vice versa. It is important for businesses to find technology partners that have expert knowledge of applications and how they perform over a 3G network. Putting WAN optimisation appliances in place, turning them on and hoping for the best is not enough. Where applications are hosted also affects their performance on a 3G network. As latency can be so critical, hosting applications within the hub of the corporate private network reduces the average latency for all sites, including those connecting via 3G services. Businesses should turn to suppliers for help and expertise on these matters to ensure the solution performs. The position of the 3G aerial or box within the business location is also important to its performance. As 3G is not able to penetrate buildings deeply, the best location is usually adjacent to a window. Inadequate alternatives WiMAX, designed as a point-to-point replacement technology, provides wireless LAN-quality connectivity and good quality of service (QoS) control. So it is better for point-to-point than 3G, which was designed for generic use over a wide area. Although 3G covers much of Europe, WiMAX is not widely available. A license is generally required for a business grade WiMAX service and can be prohibitively expensive. In addition, cell-site installation is fraught with planning issues. The rapid spread of good quality fixed line and broadband services across the UK and Europe has limited the uptake of WiMAX as an alternative. Consequently, the price reductions that tend to appear as a market is established have not come about. Now that 3G service providers are aggressively marketing mobile broadband, the future of WiMAX as a mainstream business technology looks bleak. WiFi is another obvious alternative, but its application in this context is very limited due to the physical limitations of its reach. While there are thousands of hot spots in metropolitan areas around the world these are only usable within about 10 to 20 metres of the transmitter. In addition to this, locations that are well covered with WiFi hot spots are generally in city centres that also have good or excellent fixed line coverage, so another wireless technology may be less advantageous. Which 3G is for me? Selecting the best 3G service provider is a minor issue that businesses tend to leave to their technology partner. Selection is usually a simple matter of choosing the provider with the best coverage, historical performance and contract. With respect to contracts, another advantage of 3G is that service providers usually offer competitive, flexible business packages that complement different ways of doing business. Customers tend to find that the easiest and most cost-effective way to procure this service is through one supplier under one service level agreement (SLA) and not deal with each service provider directly; there is no point adding complexity to the relationship. The best technology partners will combine complementary technologies to provide the most suitable and competitive service. SLAs should be based on application performance and other related performance benefits important to the business. A faster future 3G performs well right now as a means of wireless connectivity in a business environment, and while it may never replace its fixed line counterpart, exciting advances in the technology will improve its performance and value as a complementary connectivity tool. HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, but sometimes called ‘3G Turbo’ by service providers), and HSUPA (High-Speed Uplink Packet Access) will increase downstream and upstream speed respectively. Both will provide improved latency, but the improved upstream of HSUPA will be especially important to the business user, as it will make real-time data sharing over a mobile connection a practical reality; it is currently being rolled out in the EU. The demand for this type of solution is growing; there is burgeoning interest for it amongst business customers. As the uptake of smart devices such as the iPhone continues to grow, 3G providers will maintain their focus on improving network quality, improving data flow over the network and creating a better user experience. In turn, consumer demand will reinforce this activity and increased usage will benefit the business user by driving costs down, improving performance and supporting simple and flexible contracts and price structures.