Wi-Fi, mobile data, BYOD and tablets -- an interesting puzzle (Part 4)

Continuing our miniseries on how mobility is affecting the trend to bring a personal smartphone or tablet into the workplace, today we'll make some observations about obvious roadblocks with public Wi-Fi access that could slow the usefulness of mobile devices for unified communications.

A few weeks ago, we noted that consumer and business users alike are gaining access to more free Wi-Fi access points as telcos and cable operators build out public hotspot networks. The growing number of accessible hotspots contributes to usability for tablets (and smartphones) outside the home. However, these hotspots are far from ubiquitous -- and free access often depends on a subscription to the provider's residential broadband service.

BACKGROUND: Wi-Fi, mobile data, BYOD and tablets -- an interesting puzzle: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

While most tablets sold today are "Wi-Fi" only (as opposed to Wi-Fi + 3G/4G), the adoption of shared mobile data plans encourages tablet owners to also use mobile networks in addition to Wi-Fi, thus increasing the usefulness for business applications. But one drawback of mobile data is that these 3G/4G mobile data plans are usage sensitive, unlike Wi-Fi access which does not decrement a "data bucket" based on usage.

Another obvious drawback -- there is seldom a graceful handoff between public Wi-Fi networks and 3G/4G data networks, so real-time communications like phone calls and videoconferences can be interrupted if a user chooses to move between the two networks during a voice call or video session. Fortunately, some carriers can and do provide a handoff without interrupting the conversation, as do some premise-based IP telephony systems. Still, if users are going to depend on Wi-Fi to offload their mobile data plans, this feature is essential if tablets and smartphone are going to be useful for business-grade unified communications and collaboration.

Finally, the use of public Wi-Fi access points for mobile unified communications and collaboration also opens a Pandora's box of security and device management questions that need to be resolved, whether on a tablet or a smartphone.

Still, it is clear that many BYOD users have found a way to solve these issues for smartphone, and we remain optimistic that users and IT manages will find tablets a useful device especially for mobile video communications and collaboration applications because, as mother used to say, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Next time, we'll wrap up our series with a summary and conclusions.

Insider Tip: 12 easy ways to tune your Wi-Fi network
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