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The real cost of connecting mobile workers: The devil is in the detail

The number of mobile workers is surging. Research shows that 40 per cent of the global workforce will be mobile by 2020; and in advanced economies like the EU and the US, that number will soar to 75 per cent.
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Those numbers portray professionals who are connected at all times, whether they’re working remotely or just communicating with friends and family. According to the recent Mobile Connectivity Cost Index 2016, mobile workers now consumes 6GB per month and need 4.5GB per month to be productive.

As a result of that level of data consumption, mobile workers are racking up connectivity charges, and businesses are finding those charges difficult to track. In fact, mobile connectivity costs businesses at least £2.19bn a year, much of which consists of hidden expenses.

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A dramatic rise in data use

The increase in mobile workers doesn’t account for the rise of data usage alone, nor does the subsequent rise of smart devices in the enterprise. The way we consume data has fundamentally changed. Some of the biggest causes of increased data usage include the following:

  • Email isn’t plain text anymore, and we are now sending more attachments, such as presentations, documents and high-resolution images;
  • Cloud applications are becoming increasingly prevalent as critical business tools, e.g. CRM, Unified Communications, Gmail, Dropbox and Salesforce. When working on any of these systems, workers require an internet connection;
  • Voice over Wi-Fi and video calling apps like FaceTime and Skype for Business are increasingly being used to facilitate business communications. For context: video conferencing/calling now constitutes almost 50 per cent of the data mobile professionals use on a daily basis;
  • Web conferencing is becoming more popular, as tools like WebEx, GoToMeeting and Skype bring more teams together; and
  • Increased screen sizes and the rise of “phablet’ devices have improved the experience of viewing video content, leading to an increase in data consumption.

Connectivity options for mobile workers

To meet some of their data needs, professionals have a number of connectivity options. A cellular-only approach could be feasible for the rare worker who doesn’t use a lot of data or the employee who doesn’t travel internationally. However, this cellular-only approach makes little sense for mobile professionals who travel outside of their home region, due to draconian roaming rates.

Similarly, paying for Wi-Fi on an ad-hoc basis isn’t cost-effective either. Mobile professionals incur between £112 and £148 per month using airport, inflight and hotel Wi-Fi services, as well as hourly Wi-Fi passes from local providers.

On first glance, the answer to this cost conundrum would appear to be free Wi-Fi. But it’s not always that simple, because free Wi-Fi is anything but free. If workers rely on free Wi-Fi exclusively, they cannot work efficiently when it’s not available. This leads to mobile professionals wasting precious time looking for free Wi-Fi, resulting in lost productivity.

There are also instances where “free” Wi-Fi is available but with restrictions in terms of how long users can access it, and what activities are allowed. For the mobile professional looking to connect to cloud-based apps, share large files or stream video, this is unacceptable. In addition, there are security and privacy risks involved in connecting to a free public network, which may expose data to hackers.

The direct and indirect costs of keeping mobile professionals connected continue to rise. As such, businesses must have greater visibility into how much their employees spend to connect. Companies must also be able to easily provide cost-effective and secure connectivity for their employees. Although the cost of cellular roaming has been reduced, particularly in Europe, it remains substantial when the amount of data used by mobile professionals is taken into account.

Furthermore, piecemeal payment for Wi-Fi becomes very expensive, very quickly, and critically fails to provide the simplicity and convenience users crave. Business leaders need to understand the value of providing secure, reliable and cost-effective connectivity, thereby ensuring their mobile workforce is connected at any given time or location.

Patricia Hume is chief commercial officer at iPass

Image: Shutterstock

This article is part of our Real Business Broadband campaign, which seeks to provide a mouthpiece for business leaders to vocalise the broadband issues preventing their businesses from reaching full potential. We’d love to hear your take on the debate and where you think the UK needs to make drastic changes. Get in touch via email (shane.schutte@realbusiness.co.uk) or join in on the action using #rbBroadband.

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