• United States
by Mark Lowenstein

A look at 3G’s impact

Aug 23, 20043 mins
Network SecurityRemote Access

Mark Lowenstein of Mobile Ecosystems tells why 3G should bring about change to enterprise remote-access strategies.

The much-anticipated launch of 3G in North America will usher in the first stage of what I call “the mobile broadband era.”

Previous improvements in WAN data speeds have been in modest increments. But 3G represents enough of a great leap forward that users should begin the process of re-thinking their remote-access strategies. Let’s look at this from performance and ROI perspectives.


All sorts of variables determine the data rate a user will get in a given place, at a given time, for different applications and connectivity modes. But if we use 300K bit/sec down and 60K to 80K bit/sec (1x speeds) up as the “base case,” the key issue is whether this is suitable enough for corporations. We have to ask: With such bandwidth, can they seriously consider the WAN as their default remote-access network? The answer is a qualified “yes,” with the following considerations:

  • Coverage. 3G coverage will not be as universal as voice or 2.5G. It initially will be focused on where businesses are concentrated and in city centers.
  • Speed. The 1x speed on the uplink could be a gating factor for some users, depending on their requirements. Revision A of Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) will lead to significant improvements in the transmit link, circa 2006, as will the high-speed downlink packet access version of Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service.
  • Power management. Our tests of 3G have shown that in intensive use it cuts battery power by half, and is even hungrier than Wi-Fi.

Price and ROI

Let’s use Verizon’s current $80-per-month flat-rate plan in Washington, D.C., and San Diego and $150 to $250 for a PC card as the base case for 3G remote access. Can CIOs justify $1,000 per year, per user, plus an upfront equipment charge? Well, they certainly do for BlackBerry, although that is still mainly an executive tool.

To justify this expenditure, we need to think about EV-DO displacing some percentage of the current remote access budget. Let’s admit that EV-DO is not comparable to fixed broadband or Wi-Fi in terms of throughput. But it is “good enough” in many situations. If EV-DO can displace one-third to one-half of existing remote broadband-access expenditures, then you can make the business case. But you’ll have to factor in the harder-to-quantify benefits of mobility, ubiquity and convenience (one provider, one connection) as the remaining 50% of ROI. You get to 50% broadband displacement, to use simple but illustrative examples, with 20 hotel connects per year and one Wi-Fi provider relationship (at $30 per month) or with 50 broadband “connects,” at $10 per connect.

Although the 3G WAN could be the default for remote access, this is not a zero-sum game with respect to Wi-Fi. 3G will not be ubiquitous and will not be able to offer users enough throughput, or other attributes of a true broadband network, in some instances. Over the next year, you should see more plans that incorporate both WAN and wireless LAN, even with common connection cards and clients.

The approach of 3G and the growing availability of Wi-Fi provide the foundation for a re-thinking of your remote-access strategy. If this happens, mobile access to applications other than e-mail will become more widespread.