Solving connectivity issues in a mobile workforce

The more and more we talk about BYOD (bring your own device) the more it feels like a forgone conclusion that BYOD will be an essential part of the modern workforce. However, this means that a whole host of issues arise from maximising BYOD's effectiveness, and none more prevalent than connectivity. We spoke to Tracy Crowe, director of product marketing at Netmotion Wireless all about the issues with connectivity, how to solve those issues and how to make your workforce more mobile.

First off, when we talk about “mobility” it often feels as if what we’re really talking about is the ability to work from home, a café, or a hotel somewhere. However this is not truly “mobile” as the team member requires a solid Wi-Fi connection to do their job effectively. What do you consider true mobility and how can we deliver on the productivity promise of mobility despite these restraints?

Historically, we saw “mobility” in an even more extreme light – lots of different types of networks, and probably a specialised device tailored for working on the go.

While we still see this class of mobile worker, we see a broader spectrum of mobile workers who use their smartphone, laptop and/or tablet to stay connected and productive without having to be tethered to a desk or a single network.

True mobility is about expectations. The expectation from users that they can be constantly connected – whether that’s in a stable location like a café or hotel, or on the move. Technology should fit seamlessly into that expectation.

Connectivity is often forgotten, or ignored as ‘out of our control’ when it comes to enterprises enabling mobility. Employees can be geared to the back teeth with smartphones, tablets, MDM systems and purpose built apps but the success, or useability of all this, comes down to connectivity. Even if an app loses connection for a second it will often crash or lose the work they’ve just done and require users to log in again.

Our sales discussions come about because users, who thought they’d see huge leaps in productivity once mobility was enabled, are complaining about connections. Workers on the move may not understand what the issue is. Is it the device, the app, the connection? They don’t know what to blame and IT, often anchored to the office with limited visibility, may not be able to immediately help.

“When users struggle to get the connection they need they’ll usually revert back to old methods, leaving the purpose built apps and polished MDM strategies to gather dust. Connectivity needs to be at the core of a mobile strategy if businesses are going to recognise the productivity promise of mobile. Without it all the dominoes will fall.

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When connectivity issues strike!

When connectivity issues strike![/caption]

The natural progression of connectivity, and therefore mobility, is 4G (and eventually 5G, 6G and so on) but the main issue with 4G is its lack of reliability. By this I mean it feels almost random at times where 4G will work and where it won’t, how can businesses combat this?  

You will never have a single, continuous network that is going to give you 100% coverage. Regardless of how brilliant your office network is, how great your mobile services are, you’ll still lose connectivity, hit blackspots and/or have to roam from network to network.

Focus has to be on tackling connectivity problems proactively, rather than waiting for the end user to complain, as well as improving the user experience across the converged fabric of networks (i.e. Enabling users to flit from network to network and glide across blackspots without losing out on performance.)

There are two key steps to how businesses can do this. Firstly provide the tools that shield them from the compromises of having to rely on ever-changing wireless networks. This includes technology that fools apps into thinking they’re still connected, to avoid them crashing, and prioritising connections based on strength, cost, or particular policies. This will help them stay connected, be more productive and deliver the return on investment required from mobile workers.

Step two is to ensure that the people who look after the equipment and networks they depend on have the insight and control needed to troubleshoot any problems effectively. This means equipping them with the tools that allow them to monitor, adapt, deploy and troubleshoot problems as they occur, without unnecessarily burdening the user. These employees aren't experts in the technology and they don’t want to be, they just want it to work! Automation of the diagnostic process is vital to getting them back up and running as quickly as possible.

As mobile connectivity becomes reliable and enables true employee mobility what trends in the way we work can we expect to see, in both the coming year and in the next five years?

Many of the same issues we see today will plague us in the future. It’s inevitable that there will be advances in speed/network capabilities, bandwidth and better coverage. However with faster speeds comes an even more voracious appetite for data.

As the pipe gets bigger users and providers will just stuff more in it! Particularly as connected devices grab a share of the action. The devices we use, the content we create and want to access, results in a continued demand for more and more bandwidth. The challenge is whether the infrastructure providers can keep up while keeping pricing at a level that the market will bear.

Quality of Service will always be the issue that enterprises need to invest in. The ability to shape traffic and prioritise key applications and services, especially when coverage is poor, will be increasingly important.

The increased need for security and data loss protection will drive continued growth in enterprise, multi-platform file sharing solutions. Mobile device management and enterprise mobility management solutions will continue to evolve. So too will their relationships with independent software vendors (ISVs) to ensure off-the-shelf applications are properly instrumented to secure and protect corporate data.

Current MDM/EMM solutions are good but many ISVs do not support or warrant their applications if they’ve been “wrapped” by a third party application.

Companies need to remember that they are building on sand when it comes to mobility. With new devices, operating systems, applications and network technologies emerging constantly, future proofing needs to be more than an after-thought, it’s the only way a mobility strategy will succeed. Device, network and OS agnosticism is imperative, as is the need for ubiquitous security, management and visibility.

The way we interact with systems and our mindset is changing so much. Strict rules, closed technologies or one size fits all approaches cannot survive. The ability to ride new technology waves without having to rip and replace has to be paramount.

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I call this "4G face"[/caption]

Your latest VPN solution is a self-diagnostic tool designed to address the connectivity issues that mobile work forces face on a daily basis.

What are the main causes of connectivity issues and why do you feel that a self-diagnosis tool is the answer?

By definition a mobile worker is moving, roaming from network to network – wired to WiFi to broadband and back again. Inter-network roaming can be a huge challenge as applications often are not tolerant of drops in connectivity. This often means crashed applications, lost work and lost data.

Hopping from network to network also introduces problems when it comes to security and authentication. Depending on a company’s policies and their security tools, users may be required to login or re-authenticate as they switch networks. This takes time and interrupts workflow, damaging the mobile user experience, wasting time and generally lowering productivity.

And then there’s physics…Wireless networking means data must be reliably (and quickly) transmitted and received over the air. Transmission losses are present in wired networking and even greater, more noticeable with wireless. Add to that, interference from competing radio waves, buildings, and Mother Nature and you’ve got a plethora of potential issues that negatively affect connectivity.

Our NetMotion Mobility mobile VPN solution provides a secure, virtual tunnel for networking data between users and corporate resources. It’s been designed from day one to shield users from the issues and complexities of mobile networking.

However, whilst we protect users from the worst of these issues, they still occur, so tackling them is the next natural step for us. Our new Diagnostics product takes the guesswork out of analysing connection problems, helping mobile workers and IT administrators understand why, when and where problems occur. It enables mobile workers to quickly resolve many connection problems on their own, averting support desk calls. It reduces mobile support time by up to 90 per cent by alerting and providing detailed technical information to IT personnel.

Big thanks to Tracy for answering our questions, you can follow him on Twitter @NetMotion