Early days for 4G in the enterprise

4G coverage is "somewhere in between non-existent, terrible and flying," says Gartner analyst.

Australian enterprises are slowly adopting 4G wireless broadband, according to industry analysts. While operators are selling 4G service at the same price as 3G, service coverage and equipment costs constraints remain.

Telsyte recently estimated that by 2016, 46 per cent of all Australian mobile connections will be 4G. How quickly 4G is adopted will depend on the number and popularity of 4G devices, the analyst firm said.

“With faster and more stable connection, some companies—especially [small and medium-sized businesses]—are replacing fixed broadband with mobile broadband which allow them the flexibility of bringing their Internet access everywhere they go,” said IDC analyst Siow-Meng Soh.

Australian businesses are taking 4G “as they can,” said Gartner analyst Geoff Johnson. Carriers aren’t charging extra for 4G, and the cost of 4G equipment can be built into a company’s regular technology refresh, he said.

However, nascent coverage in Australia is still an issue holding enterprises back from adopting 4G, and may especially be a problem for the mining industry and others working in remote locations, he said.

“I’ve been around capital cities the last few days, and it’s somewhere in between non-existent, terrible and flying,” he said. “You just never know what you’re going to get.”

Coverage today is mainly limited to capital cities. However, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are all investing large amounts of money to build out their 4G networks.

Also, Johnson warned that today the term 4G is just marketing. “A strict definition of 4G” is 100 Mbps while moving and 1 Gbps when standing still, he said. Mobile operators currently offer LTE speeds of up to 40 Mbps, and the actual speed varies depending on location and other factors.

Where there is coverage, the fastest business adopters of 4G are likely to be companies with a mobile workforce, Johnson said. For example, “a big team of sales reps or field engineers,” he said.

LTE speeds enable better video and other applications that require high speed and low latency, Soh said.

“We expect 4G/LTE to drive the usage of video conferencing using mobile devices, particularly since video apps are now readily available and devices now have better screens and cameras,” he said. “4G/LTE will also enable next-generation of machine-to-machine applications such as video surveillance and digital signage.”

The higher speeds of LTE could especially benefit the healthcare industry, Soh said. 4G tablets “can be used to enable communication between a doctor and a patient and support other areas such as ability to view MRI scans through a high resolution touch screen or access other patient records faster,” he said.

LTE could reduce the cost of doing surveillance because it eliminates the need for wired equipment, Soh said. That would save money especially in remote locations, he said

While important for HD video and telepresence, 4G speeds offer little enhancement for Web browsing and messaging, Gartner said in a paper released in November. The analyst firm recommended that enterprises take a cautious approach to adopting 4G.

“Companies should allow mobile users to upgrade to 4G services and devices by attrition, rather than as a planned migration at once,” Gartner said in the report. “Assess the use of 4G technologies for higher-speed enterprise data applications, and devices such as tablets and notebooks first. Since 4G coverage is still not ubiquitous, companies should negotiate pricing based on 3G and 4G multimode services.

“With mobile broadband, it becomes realistic to support multimedia applications such as video on mobile smartphones and tablets,” Gartner said. “However, even with higher speeds, the low reliability and variability of the wireless network will preclude the use of high-quality mobile videoconferencing.

“For other applications, this network issue will also force the continued demand for offline capabilities, because no matter how fast the network standards get, the challenge of ubiquitous coverage has not improved, and it will remain an issue for the business planning horizon.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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