MicroScope: Lessons from the 4G soap opera

By Simon Bearne, UK Sales Director, Claranet

The ongoing saga of 4G has been an interesting distraction for technophiles in recent weeks, with EE beginning trials in cities around the country and the other networks lobbying furiously – successfully, it seems – for Ofcom to bring forward the auction of the remaining mobile spectrum.

The squabble between the competing mobile network operators, along with the ongoing soap opera of the spectrum auction, is certainly relevant to anyone who is interested in the next-generation of high-speed mobile internet. But given that media mentions of 4G have focused on the consumer angle, resellers can be forgiven for wondering how relevant 4G will be to their core business of enterprise-focused IT.

However 4G on consumer mobile devices is a bit of a red herring – at least until battery life improves. As the New York Times recently pointed out, 4G absolutely kills mobile batteries: a combination of the increased processing power required for data-intensive communications, and the need to switch between 4G and 3G networks in areas of patchy coverage.

In fact, I believe that 4G will bring more immediate benefits to businesses than to consumers – and that this therefore presents an inviting and profitable opportunity to the channel.

Modern businesses thrive on connectivity, but the more reliant they have become on the internet, the more vulnerable they are when a technical fault or a workman’s misplaced spade causes the network goes down. For many businesses any network downtime is unacceptable, so they invest in a redundant and costly physical backup network.

The advent of superfast mobile networks will – and I use this word advisedly – revolutionise the way that businesses build backup connectivity into their networks. Instead of investing in redundant physical infrastructure, they can instead use a 4G-enabled router to access cheap, fast and effective backup connectivity in the event of any disruption to their main network.

The implications for businesses could be immediate, by enabling them to switch seamlessly to a service delivered over the mobile spectrum at a fraction of the cost of a redundant cable connection. Because this would predominantly involve mains powered devices, the issue of battery life doesn’t arise; moreover, it brings backup connectivity within the range of smaller businesses that could not previously afford it.

Similar services already exist over a high performance 3G network, and this is particularly attractive to businesses that depend on ‘always-on’ connectivity such as retailers, who need to be able to process card transactions at all times. The limitations of the 3G network mean that it is not an ideal replacement for businesses that require constant, high-speed connectivity. That will change as soon as 4G comes online.

While most mobile operators may be thinking about the business implications of 4G, it’s likely that they will concentrate more on the lucrative consumer side, with its potential for pushing contract upgrades and device sales. That is why the channel has such an important part to play: to act as a link between mobile operators and the businesses that stand to benefit. And if resellers jump on this opportunity and start investigating potential relationships with mobile network operators now, it’s not just businesses that will profit.