Get ready for the untethered enterprise

Users are beginning to rely solely on mobile devices

For a small but growing number of enterprise users, it's time to cut the cord.

According to Nemertes Research's recently-released 2010/2011 benchmark study, 11 per cent of enterprises report that at least some users rely entirely on mobile devices — needing no wired WAN or LAN services at all. Although the number of actual untethered users is minimal — an average of 1.8 per cent of all employees they exist — companies report that these numbers will increase dramatically over the next few years.

Drivers for the untethered enterprise include the following:

  • Economics. For very small branch offices, it's actually less expensive to provide each employee with wireless services via an EVDO or AirCard than a conventional LAN and WAN connection — provided the enterprise can negotiate an uncapped data service. Depending on the number of users (typically fewer than 10), companies can save up to $2,500 in installation costs and $2,500 annually.

  • The rise of enterprise technology (ET). I've written recently about the large-scale shift from IT to ET: technology deployments that extend beyond IT's historical focus on enabling back-office business processes and knowledge workers. With ET, employees who don't typically use PCs are increasingly relying on technology to do their jobs. I'm talking about folks who don't normally work behind desks: Doctors, nurses, police officers, retail managers, and the like. Although these employees rarely use desktops, they do require mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

  • The influx of Gen-Y workers. Although workers younger than 30 are generally computer-fluent, the device of choice for these folks is increasingly wireless. Younger workers are accustomed to doing most of what they need from mobile devices: they watch videos, conduct banking transactions, and even submit job applications from their phones.

To support these untethered workers, enterprise network managers need to stay on top of emerging technology. Three critical trends to track are:

  • LTE and femtocells. MetroPCS has already begun deployment of LTE in key markets, and with Verizon's announcement at CTIA last week that it plans to launch LTE in 38 markets by years-end — instead of the expected 25 — the gauntlet is thrown. LTE rollouts are finally accelerating, and even Sprint and AT&T are getting on board. From an enterprise perspective, LTE services are most interesting when coupled with femtocells, which enable carriers to provide managed in-facility wireless services — enabling users to stay seamlessly connected both on and off-premises. A big challenge for LTE, however, is support for voice: Standards are still in flux. (Watch this space).

  • The emergence of tablets. Since its introduction this spring, the iPad has made remarkable inroads in enterprise environments. But although it's a game-changer, it's not the only game in town. RIM recently announced its PlayBook tablet (available in early 2011) and last week, Samsung rolled out its Galaxy tablet (rumored availability: next month).

  • 802.11n. Although there's plenty of action in the carrier space, let's not forget about Wi-Fi. Two-thirds of companies either have deployed, or plan to deploy, 802.11n — despite the fact that 89% say they don't currently have applications that demand 802.11n performance.

    Want to know how to craft a mobility strategy that leverages these emerging tech trends and delivers enhanced productivity for untethered (and semi-tethered) users? Stay tuned: We’ll talk about that in next week's column.

    Johnson is president and senior founding partner at Nemertes Research, an independent technology research firm. She can be reached at

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