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Managing Mobility

Enterprise mobility promises to create an efficient, productive, always-connected environment for enterprise users; however, it can create headaches for network managers and cabling professionals alike. The key lies in having the right infrastructure plan.


July 1, 2009  


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Enterprise mobility may offer promise of a more productive and better connected workforce, but it comes with its share of pains and challenges for network managers and cabling professionals alike.

A plethora of devices and new user expectations must be handled and properly managed. Even a down economy has not completely quashed user and business demand for mobility, and this ubiquity is causing some organizations to overlook whether mobility is a must-have or a nice-to-have business tool.

According to Info-Tech Research Group, that is the very first question that must be asked when looking at implementing an enterprise mobility solution. The London, Ont.-based research firm says that executives responsible for the network must examine how critical mobility is to the business and why, since business can see increases in support costs of 18% or more through implementing wireless mobility.

In numerous cases, Info-Tech’s suggests that wireless is incompatible with existing network infrastructure. Many organizations will need to simultaneously support both their traditional network management systems (NMS) and the wireless network until better, more unified tools become available from carriers and the market. This, and integration issues, can make supporting wireless mobility an expensive endeavor.

Still, with the right business case and properly weighing pros and cons, enterprise mobility can work wonders for increased worker productivity, customer service, and even reduce telecom expenses when roaming in remote offices, says Mark Tauschek, lead research analyst for Info-Tech, who specializes in network infrastructure and mobility.

“When I think about riding on the train from our Toronto office to our London office and tethering my laptop with my iPhone … There’s now a very good potential (for users) to connect to corporate networks and do work from anywhere,” he says as a simple example of the power of today’s mobile convergence.

Chris Thompson, senior director of mobility solutions for Cisco Systems Inc., says that mobility isn’t just about going wireless, but that three networks — the wired network, the cellular network and the on-premises wireless network — must all work together as a platform for collaboration and computing to deliver the “mobility experience.”

Thompson says that user expectations and behaviours can create one of the bigger hurdles related to wireless mobility.

“People will take the experience that gives them 80% of the result for 20% of the effort,” he says of why it is crucial to make network handoffs and mobility as seamless as possible to users. Many businesses will say there are certain applications that require a wired network for performance or aren’t available over a cellular network, he adds.

Thompson says that Cisco’s vision of the user mobility experience is to seamlessly “deliver an experience where with a minimal effort a user can connect to a network and the services are offered to whatever device the user is connecting with.”

With players like Cisco involved, mobile convergence is becoming technologically feasible, even if it is still somewhat embryonic, says Tauschek.

“The complexity of bringing all that together, though, is not insignificant. And, from the perspective of fixed mobile convergence, it has not taken off yet.”

He says for more widespread adoption of converged mobility offerings such as dual-mode devices (that run on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks), greater education is still required.

“There’s also a significant carrier component required, and while some have toyed with it, few have dived right in.”

One of the biggest surprises for enterprise businesses can be the infrastructure demands required for a “wireless” mobile experience. This is especially true when incorporating handheld PDAs or smart phones that operate on the public wireless (or cellular) network.

Typical building construction materials create a kind of blind spot for cellular networks, says John Spindler, vice president of product management for ADC’s wireless business. In fact, next generation wireless services such as 4G, which promises to better handle broadband applications like MMS, video chat, mobile TV and HDTV content, run on a frequency of 2.5 GHz and, as such, might not even get as far as three metres into a premise.

In the past, this was not a problem, but the ubiquity of cellular service and user expectations mean this is becoming unacceptable for many 21st century businesses and their employees.

With more than two decades in the wireless industry, Spindler has watched the once-fledgling technology grow, and he says many of today’s challenges come from its initial purpose and design. At its onset, infrastructure was focused on highways and urban cores, since carriers were focused on users being able to make calls from their cars. Today, Spinder notes, that doesn’t cut it with enterprise business users.

“In the early ’80s cellular was just being talked about, but it has evolved in just a short span of time into something that is completely pervasive in everyone’s lives, all the way from 10 year olds carrying cell phones to my 86-year-old father-in-law sending me e-mail messages on his BlackBerry.”

This has caused a “huge” number of wire line displacements, says Spindler. “Wireless devices have become the number one communication methods both in the enterprise and at home, which is par ticularly true of demographics of 25-to 30-year-old users.”

To propagate public wireless service inside buildings, requires a Radio Frequency (RF) source, like a bay station or repeater, and cabling run through the premises to distribute service to antennas through the enterprise. In the past (and in many enterprises today) this was done using thick (1/2-inch to 3/4-inch) coaxial cable.

This passive system, as Spindler calls it, uses no active electronics to augment the signal, creating two challenges: coaxial loses signal over distances, and is expensive to purchase and install.

Spindler suggests enterprise use an active system, where the cellular service runs almost like a LAN. The signal is run from the RF source, which acts like a main hub, using single-or multi-mode fiber optic cables to active electronic hubs (expansion hubs), and from there to antennas using either copper cabling or thin CATV cables.

“Think about it like a big RF sprinkler system. Just like you’d have sprinklers for fire protection, you would have small antenna points throughout a building to effectively blanket a building in RF coverage and provide coverage and capacity so wherever a user goes they would always be connected.”

Compared to the cost of copper-heavy coaxial cabling that could cost over $1.50 a foot, CATV cabling, at about $0.25 a foot, can mean substantial savings as well as increased familiarity for some IT departments, says Spindler. “The big secret of wireless is that it takes a bunch of wires,” he says. Because of this, cable can be a sizeable expense in an enterprise mobility deployment. Even using an active electronics system, such as what ADC offers, the hardware and electronics accounts for just 50-60%; cabling the remainder.

Especially crucial to a successful enterprise mobility implementation is proper capacity planning. As an example, data applications are bandwidth hogs and if the correct infrastructure is not installed, users could crash the network just turning on their BlackBerry and iPhones services all at once.

Spindler advises organizations embracing enterprise mobility to build for today, but with an eye on the future.

Enterprise managers should look at the users on the network, the data-intensive applications being used over smart phones, and also compensate for roamers coming into the network from outside and guests.

“That’s all well and good,” Spindler says of capacity planning around current needs. “What you also have to do is look into your crystal ball and ask yourself: What’s the growth of the company
going to look like in the next three to five years? How many more users will I have on this specific network? And, what are we thinking about in terms of evolving our applications for this network?

“Then you have to plan for that and install a system that will get you from Point A to Point B without massive upgrades required in the future.”

Tim Waldner, senior vice president of marketing and product development for cable manufacturer and supplier Superior Essex, says enterprise wireless demands have actually been a boon to the cabling industries, as more cable is required to support Wi-Fi and cellular needs. However, this might soon come to an end.

“I think it’s a temporary boon, because there is a trend afoot in organizations to not wire up their phone networks, and that going to accelerate over the next three of four years,” he said. “There is a small trend, which is gaining a little bit of momentum, to go completely wireless in a building. That’s started with very small businesses and has not expanded yet into the enterprise.”

In the long term as those trends continue, Waldner suggests there will be a decline in cabling to the desktop, but not to the enterprise backbone.

Mobile devices and management headaches: Despite global economic woes, the future market for mobile devices is destined to continue to grow. Recent research from IDC forecasts that despite the global recession, smart phone sales in the U. S. are expected to grow 20% this year over last. In Canada, while IDC forecasts an increase of only 4%, it is still one of the few IT growth areas.

Kevin Restivo, senior analyst for mobility research at the firm, says that while the mobile phone and smart phone markets in Canada have slowed compared to the growth it was previously seeing, they continue to grow. He says the bulk of growth is in the smart phone market, devices with full-fledged operating systems, and that is still primarily driven by enterprise users. Traditional cell phone growth has been nominal.

“It’s one of the brighter lights in the IT industry right now,” Restivo says. “The cloud hanging over the market is, of course, the recession.”

In terms of computing power and telephony, key industry players have announced they are putting their money where their mouths are. In late June, Intel announced it would join forces with leading cell-phone maker Nokia to develop what the two say will be a new class of mobile computing device. The intention of this mind meld between industry giants is to further combine the power of computing chipsets with performance with high-bandwidth mobile communications.

The two say the standards-based devices they will develop should transform the user experience by bringing incredible mobile applications and always on, always connected wireless Internet access in a user-friendly “pocketable” form factor.

The challenge inherent in this variety and demand for mobile devices is that they must all be managed, and that’s no easy task, suggests Info-Tech’s Tauschek.

“The biggest thing we hear from enterprises is the question of how to manage all these mobile devices?” he says. “Smart phones, and especially now netbooks (which are now being subsidized by carriers), must all be incorporated into an enterprise’s asset management and security management systems.

“All these devices, as they leave enterprise control, are the biggest thing irking enterprise IT folks.”

While tools exist to help with the management capabilities that must be added to handle mobile devices, they increase support costs. As well, mobile devices open up the network to potential security risks and data loss, as well as the loss of the mobile devices themselves.

Management, security and difficulty around understanding the impact of mobile devices on the enterprise are key challenges, says Restivo. He notes that many times devices are brought in to an organization simply because users want them, and that it is incumbent on organizations to better assess their mobility needs and to ensure that adoption is part of a robust mobility strategy.

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One of the biggest surprises for enterprise businesses can be the infrastructure demands required for a “wireless” mobile experience.

UC: A Whole New Wrinkle

Unified communications adds another wrinkle to enterprise mobility, since a fully seamless solution for bridging cell phones and landlines does not yet exist, but it is what organizations are asking for, according to Samer Bishay, president and CEO of wireless IP service provider Iristel.

“Users want to be able to unify their office phone and mobile phone and have one communications box; they don’t want to have to check the mailbox on their cell phone and the mailbox on their office phone… and want it all to (be managed in) their Outlook,” he says.

The obstacle, Bishay suggests, is that cell phone operators only focus on their product and services, while the same is true of land lines. Even carriers who have both treat them as separate “entities.” Bishay says that in the future the two different spectrums will merge into one, providing true integration.

Until then, businesses seeking to unify their mobile and fixed communications are seeking what Bishay calls “semi-solutions,” which requires additional steps when traversing networks.

Iristel’s own communications service, for example, uses SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) credentials to switch calls from user’s mobile phone to their landline phones at home or in the office (and vice versa), but requires users to dial *11. The service uses the data stream of the phone’s network, so it requires 3G or Wi-Fi hotpot coverage when the phone switch.

“True presence management is really walking in a place and (the call) automatically hops for you, irrelevant of where you are, as long as you’re in the coverage area of a landline network and a mobile network that talks to each other,” Bishay says.