V3 Enterprise Mobility Summit: There are now 875 million active 4G connections around the world, according to recent GSM Association data, and well over 10 million of them are in the UK.
Many of these connections will be business users as mobility becomes a key strand of IT strategies now that smartphones and tablets are commonplace.
Indeed, Ofcom data from 2014 showed that 79 percent of firms now use mobiles for business purposes.
EE, which launched 4G services in 2012, has 7.7 million 4G customers, and business users on its books include Rightmove, Deloitte and Cumbria Constabulary.
The firm has also enticed numerous smaller firms to its 4G services. One unique customer is the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which can trace its routes as far back as 1570 and boasts the impressive honour of having cast Big Ben and the Liberty Bell.
The foundry's owner, Alan Hughes, told V3 that using 4G it has made life much easier by making it possible to access information - ranging from documents to the sound of its bells - via cloud services, even when as far afield as New Zealand.
“If you’re at a site with someone and they have detailed questions, you used to have to say you’d find out when back in the office,” he explained.
“Now, we can bring up the information wherever we are. That’s important because it can impress people and show them they’re dealing with a modern cutting-edge business, despite our history and heritage.”
It also allows staff to carry out Skype calls from the field back to the office, so they can view potential installation locations or make sure bells sound correct after installation or any fixes (pictured).
Another firm using EE's 4G service is Digital Next, a marketing agency based in Manchester. The chief executive of the company, Justin Blackhurst, told V3 that the benefits have been huge since making the switch.
“It means staff can be travelling around and can still download PDFs and visuals without issue,” he said.
“We can also easily stream videos showing the sort of work we do, which can be a great way to showcase our work, especially when you’re chatting at a conference or networking event.”
Blackhurst added that having 4G also proves vital when he is without a good broadband connection during pitches and the like, as the 4G can create a wireless hotspot for the laptop.
O2 and Vodafone also offer 4G business services since they joined the 4G fold in August 2013. Vodafone boasts customers as diverse as NearDesk and Fulham FC, while O2 touts business users such Aspects Beauty and haircare firm Concoction.
Jason Woods, head of IT at Aspects Beauty, explained that, with four-fifths of the company’s workforce operating externally, signing up for 4G has brought many benefits.
“With 4G we have been able to make our systems cloud-based which means we can push our systems out into the field more and we can get everybody connected,” he said.
“Prior to this they had to print documentation the evening before and hope it covered everything. Now we can put any documents they may require, even video, in the cloud. They can download it before the meeting and there’s no panic.”
He said that 4G also helps sales managers to update systems live from the field so that other staff can see whether orders have been placed, or any other updates, and react far more quickly than was possible before.
Coverage and questions
However, while firms like those above and more besides are embracing 4G and seeing the benefits, many remain behind the times.
Nick McQuire, vice president of enterprise mobility at analyst house CCS Insight, told V3 that operators are perhaps not doing enough to drive home the business benefits of 4G.
“Operators are somewhat sleepwalking into the business side of 4G, partly because they don’t have the coverage and also because they focus on selling other services to business,” he said.
“They are missing the boat around the mobile productivity opportunities that 4G presents.”
He noted, though, that operators are waking up to this fact, and starting to bundle other services into business deals, such as Office 365 subscriptions or access to security services.
On the flip side, McQuire said that firms are perhaps missing out because they don't realise the benefits of 4G, such as using applications on the go, particularly from cloud services.
Others, even if aware of 4G, may be put off by the fact that 4G coverage remains patchy. Vodafone, for example, has reached 57 percent coverage which, while an acceptable figure in just over a year of rollouts, hardly amounts to widespread services.
However, with all the operators expanding their coverage, BT set to join the mobile fray and Three acquiring O2's network to become a more dominant force in the market, the business uptake of 4G will continue to grow.
For more insights on mobility make sure to register for V3's Enterprise Mobility Summit.
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