What Now for Cell Phones?

Sprint Masters of

If you’ve turned on the news in the last week, then you’ve seen reports covering the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision to classify cell phone radiation as a possible human carcinogen, putting cell phone radiation in the same bucket as automobile exhaust and lead. The WHO’s analysis of multiple studies on cell phone and brain cancer found a near doubling of the risk of a certain kind of cancer after 10 years or more of cell phone use. But the WHO’s findings are disputed by other studies as well as the cell phone industry, which reminded users that cell phone safety manuals already advise customers not to hold a cell phone against their head.

While various groups continue to fight a public battle over whether or not cell phone use causes cancer, the WHO announcement is bound to raise the eyes of those responsible for corporate risk management. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that lawyers will bring cases against employers on behalf of those diagnosed with glioma, (the type of cancer that the WHO analysis associated with an increased risk from cell phone use). These cases will likely argue that employee use of a company-provided cell phone was a contributing factor to the development of the cancer, meaning potentially increased legal liability for employers. In turn, risk managers are likely going to turn to IT for solutions to mitigate future risk. Class action lawsuits against cell phone manufacturers and wireless service providers are likely to increase as well.

This news comes at less than an ideal time for enterprise IT leaders. Mobility is almost recession-proof in IT organizations: Forty-three percent of participants in Nemertes’ recent benchmark said their mobility budgets are increasing this year (by an average of 11%), and nearly all of the remaining participants said mobility budgets are holding steady. As mobility options increase, thanks especially to the rise in the last year of the tablet, many IT leaders and employees are looking to entirely replace traditional computing platforms. Intriguingly, 11% of organizations say they have some staffers who use mobile devices instead of PCs. Yet the number of fully untethered users remains quite low: The mean percentage of mobile-only staff is a paltry 1.8%. However, the range varied greatly, from 1% of staff (in a large financial-services company) to 38% of staff (in a midsize distribution company). While the fully un-wired workforce is low, IT leaders tell us it’s poised to rapidly increase.

So does the WHO statement mean an end to enterprise mobility initiatives? No, but I expect that you will see enterprise mobility managers increasingly look to minimize risk by adopting a variety of approaches, including:

· Creating user classifications to minimize widespread use of wireless devices. Instead, companies will only provide a mobile device to those employees with a demonstrative need to have one, leaving those who can’t justify a company-provided device to use their own phone.

· Mandating use of Bluetooth or wired headphones, which many experts say can reduce radiation exposure. Providing employees with Bluetooth headsets will raise costs of supporting mobile employees, both for initial distribution of headsets, and replacement of lost/damage devices.

· Increased user education and training to better inform workers of the risks of cell phone radiation as well as mitigation approaches

· More focus on differentiating cell phones by radiation emissions, and using radiation emissions as a buying criteria when selecting supported devices and service providers.

The bottom line: while the WHO’s classification of cell phone radiation as a potential human carcinogen won’t drastically change enterprise mobility, it will cause risk managers to take another look at how their organizations are addressing cell phone usage risks, and it will lead to greater enterprise focus on education, wired/Bluetooth headsets, and evaluating cell phone radiation emissions as a key buying criteria.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.