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Network World - While nobody is predicting that the proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise will create a full-blown bandwidth catastrophe, IT managers will have to move quickly to ensure satisfactory performance for employees accessing company data over wireless links.
The biggest issue is ensuring that data is available when users want it, and that wireless connections are secure and reliable. While this is also true for wired networks, mobile computing poses an additional burden on IT.
"Mobile computing offers a unique challenge. We can't predict where users are going to be, and we have to be prepared to support users anywhere, all the time," says John Edgar, vice president of information technology at the U.S. Postal Service.
The USPS has 20,000 internal mobile users, mostly managers and administrators, and over the next two years, plans to deploy new mobile apps and devices to its 250,000 letter carriers.
The Postal Service is certainly not alone when it comes to planning for a surge in mobile usage. According to a report by Forrester Research earlier this year, almost half of IT executives surveyed said that mobile connectivity will continue to be a top priority during the next 12 months.
Much of their focus will be on security and deployment. Specifically, 45% of respondents said implementation or improvement of mobile security tops their IT to-do lists. Forty-four percent plan to extend internal systems to mobile users in their business units and employees.
Cisco, in its annual Visual Networking Index released in February, found that in 2011 global mobile data traffic more than doubled for the fourth year in a row. And it predicts that the number of mobile connections will increase 18-fold between 2011 and 2016. Global mobile data traffic grew 140% in 2009, another 159% in 2010 and 133% in 2011. That number is projected to be 110% in 2012.
According to market research firm InStat, the number of WiFienabled devices is estimated to go from 500 million units in 2009 to nearly 2 billion units in 2014. By 2013, the number of mobile phones alone with Wi-Fi capability will exceed 1 billion.
On the device side, tablets will see substantial growth, according to Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. He says that tablet usage increased 4% in 2009, compared to 2008. At the end of 2010 there was an 11% increase, and in 2011, a 19% increase. That number will probably go up another 30% this year.
"Of course, many users already have laptops and smartphones, and when you add one or two additional devices they can have four or five. That's a 200% increase in devices accessing data without the company adding any employees," says Kerravala.
If anyone is juggling massive numbers of mobile users, it's UPS. During peak periods, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, mobile employees can number up to 160,000 over wireless connections. Although the company's mobile infrastructure is largely built around a custom device called the DIAD V, which helps drivers track routing of standard small packages, keep tabs on ground and air freight and the location of tractor-trailers, the issues are similar to those associated with standard off-the-shelf devices.