4G in the Enterprise: Are We There Yet?

By  Jessica Binns — July 06, 2011

MEW_Focus_0811-(1).jpgIf your business is among those that have been holding their breath in the wait for 4G, is it finally time to exhale? 4G, or fourth-generation cellular wireless standard, is a family of technologies that includes LTE, which is being adopted by both AT&T and Verizon. When being used at high speed—such as in vehicles, buses, and trains—4G will offer peak speeds of 100 Mbps, and mobile professionals can expect about 1 Gbps during pedestrian use. With Verizon Wireless eight months into its long-term evolution (LTE) deployment and AT&T beginning its own rollout this summer, enterprises can start to take a hard look at the technology and the solutions it can bring to fruition.


Ready—Or Not?

Michael King, research director at IT research and advisory firm Gartner, says that for now, 4G has become more of a marketing term than anything. Clients are starting to consider how 4G can benefit their business operations, he says, but at the moment, laptop users with 4G connectivity are the only ones really seeing increased speeds. Workers with task-specific usage—such as those on rugged devices, in field force automation, and doing mapping and routing—won’t see an impact for some time. King expects carriers to begin spending more money in late 2012 to promote 4G devices, largely to move high-bandwidth users off of 3G networks.

“The problem with 3G is network congestion, and that’s where LTE is quite useful, to augment capacity,” explains Andrew Green, VP of mobile computing for Sierra Wireless. “As data usage grows—worldwide operators talk about data usage doubling every year or even every 10 months—LTE provides a great user experience for everyone on the network.”

While moving nationally toward one wireless 4G standard, LTE, is a step in the right direction, the reality is that there remains considerable diversity in mobile operators’ requirements, says Green. “We’re still struggling with the number of frequency bands that LTE is deployed on,” he says. Verizon, AT&T, and European carriers all have their own variants, and beyond that, there are 14 different LTE frequency bands around the world. In the U.S., Verizon, AT&T, and public safety agencies each have a piece of the 700 MHz band.


Do What You’re Doing—But Faster

Enhanced connectivity, faster throughput, and reduced latency—this is what LTE offers enterprises to simply do better what they’re already doing today, according to Mark Bartolomeo, VP of global enterprise for Verizon Wireless. “Consumerization is driving a lot of the demand for the enterprise to move faster,” he adds, referencing the growing demand by employees to bring powerful consumer-grade smartphones and tablets into the workplace.

Verizon currently offers four 4G-enabled smartphones, and, at press time, covers 74 metropolitan areas. In addition, Verizon concurrently has been working with rural operators to deploy LTE in sparsely populated areas.

The advent of 4G also is driving innovative corporate operational models. “Enterprises want to deliver additional services over their infrastructure,” Bartolomeo explains. For example, remote diagnostic capabilities will help some businesses reduce operational downtime. Instead of bringing broken equipment into the plant for repairs, enterprises can leverage mobile video to diagnose the problem in the field and handle the repair on the spot, saving a considerable amount of time and money in the process.

Moreover, machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will increase as 4G becomes widely available, and this connectivity can enable proactive customer service. Rather than waiting for equipment to break or fail, M2M can monitor parts and alert the appropriate staff when that machinery needs to be serviced.

Indeed, faster 4G speeds make a compelling business case for M2M. “In the short term, we see companies reviewing M2M applications who are interested in bandwidth and greater speed,” says Green. “The big draw is the efficiency of LTE; the overall cost of services—cost per bit—is lower. There’s some economy on the back end of the network, a reduction in service cost.” Mobile operators can spend a bit more money up front to encourage businesses to use a 4G modem for M2M connections and then offer better service at a lower cost.


Making the Case for Mobile Video

If there’s one technology that most benefits from 4G speeds, it’s mobile video. Abishek Tiwari, director of product management for global communications provider Syniverse, says that mobile video via 4G will enable enterprises to enrich current ways of doing business. Enterprises can use mobile video to monitor field operations or push tech support out to remote locations.

Syniverse is busy tackling the problem of interoperability among mobile video platforms or as Tiwari says, “seamlessly plugging disparate environments together.” Enabling that functionality will make mobile video ubiquitous, he adds.

While many enterprises are excited about adopting mobile video, most aren’t thinking about what’s necessary to upload video from mobile devices in the field, says William Mutual, CEO of LiveCast, a mobile video technology enabler. With Verizon LTE, LiveCast, and a video camera or computer with a 4G modem, users can transmit high-quality video in a half second, Mutual says.

LiveCast offers a Command Center that enables a user to view eight mobile video streams simultaneously, offering a central location to monitor all users with live feeds. Verticals including oil and gas and construction already use the command center to monitor operations and validate completed work, explains Mutual.  


Transforming Broadcast Operations

Michael Smith, owner of Newsflash Media and a freelance videographer for Montgomery, Ala.’s ABC32 news network, can attest to the impact of 4G technology on his day-to-day operations. His solution is to use Verizon’s LTE network coupled with LiveCast’s Duetto—a hybrid two-way videoconferencing and video streaming solution for mobile phones—to stream breaking news and scheduled live broadcasts.

Smith’s solution enables nimble news operations in the field, he says. Instead of relying on a live truck—the familiar news vans that break the news in the field—Smith simply needs a MiFi hotspot, a video camera, and his laptop to capture and instantly stream a news event. Whereas deploying and setting up a live truck generally takes upwards of 20 minutes, with his solution, Smith simply opens his laptop and clicks a button to begin streaming mobile video.

News executives who have seen his solution in action have been impressed, says Smith. “My news directors have said that if the technology proves itself, they’ll sell their live trucks,” he says. “It’ll prove itself during hurricane season.”

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