There’s no doubting that it’s been a busy month for proponents of 4G networks on these shores. With the announcement of the UK’s first mobile LTE network followed swiftly by the much-hyped iPhone 5 launch event, it’s clear that the prospect of widespread deployment and use of 4G networks has quickly moved from a distant speck on the horizon to a clear and present consideration for many.
However, with very few businesses having had the time to evaluate the virtues of adopting this new generation of mobile technology, perhaps it’s worth pausing for thought and asking how broadband-speed mobile networks will affect the way organisations and their employees do their jobs?
The answer, of course, is that the use of these networks by businesses will be largely defined by the range of applications that are made available to users of 4G enabled devices. After all, it’s worth remembering that although mobile handsets, regardless of whether they are tailored for iOS, Android, or any other type of operating system, can plug into the fastest networks available, without the necessary applications, any increase in speed is largely redundant.
So with this in mind, what business applications will we start to see more of, and how can they help to give organisations a competitive edge?
In my view, the greatest benefit for mobile 4G business applications will come from an increase in the number of video streaming applications. As a direct result of networks being able to handle greater quantities of information, we could see greater demand for the development of more data intensive applications, which could pave the way for video conferencing and live streaming of events on mobile devices becoming commonplace.
This means we could see a significantly reduced demand for traditional video conferencing solutions as a direct result. Faced with the choice of investing in expensive video conferencing, enterprises may well choose to arm employees with handsets and data plans capable of allowing them to attend all-important meetings no matter where they are in the world.
Clearly, there are also a number of specific industries in both the private and the public sector that could see a significant, tangible benefit from utilising the ability of 4G enabled handsets to rapidly exchange large datasets. For example, patient x-rays or MRT scans could become far more accessible for health professionals on-the-go.
Specifically designed applications developed to provide healthcare experts with the ability to make on-the-spot diagnoses and quicker decisions could help them to save more lives. The same could be said of any industry that is dependent upon accessing large, unwieldy and complicated files. Engineers and architects, for instance, can exchange ideas, identify problems and discuss modifications to extensive plans without having to be in the same room. This could provide a saving on both time and the expense of travel.
However, the benefits that 4G enabled business applications offer could well go beyond the use of extensive, data heavy applications. Indeed, where most businesses could see more tangible benefit is in the state of an interaction between the mobile application and the back-end of their business processes.
Clearly, business applications which are designed to plug in will be able to synchronise more quickly and provide easier access to important data in a timely fashion. However, these applications should, in an ideal world, build upon existing business application platforms – not replace those that are already in place. The watchword should be evolution, rather than the revolution of rip-and-replace, if costs are to be minimised.
This new breed of business applications will, undoubtedly, enable organisations to become more responsive and it will help them in their decision-making. Furthermore, applications designed to connect to business processes could significantly improve the time it takes for businesses to access data and make decisions as a result, meaning that decision-makers needn’t wait until they are back in front of a desktop computer to access the information they need.
For example, being able to access a subset of a database, containing business-critical statistics or even check on the status of a long-running business transaction while on-the-go, could be the difference between executives making the right decision and having to wait until it’s too late.
Of course, one thing’s for sure – 4G networks and the applications that run on them, will greatly improve the user experience when it comes to accessing core business functions. It will also be easier for employees to work remotely, attend meetings (albeit virtually) and stay up-to-date with the data they need to be able to perform effectively.
Does this mean that the traditionally method of working in offices will soon become a thing of the past? If so, then it’s unlikely, in my opinion at least, that it will happen any time soon. The network capability might be on the horizon and the technological know-how in terms of the software and hardware may already exist but we’ll still need to see the use of such networks maturing and the price of the technology coming down before we see businesses adopting them on a wide scale.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that 4G networks, along with a proliferation of the number of handsets that are capable of utilising the technology could see significant changes to the way businesses operate in the coming years.
It’s a future that will be driven not only by the speed of the networks but also how sophisticated the applications are that are built to support them and how quickly and efficiently they can be rolled out. It’s an exciting time to be involved in application development and there’s no doubt that it’s an area that could play a significant role in the way businesses operate over the next few years!