The ability to work wherever and whenever you want is possible, thanks to advances in wireless broadband technology for businesses.
Mobile-based technologies, according to Satellite Broadband Ireland’s Kevin Ryan, will be a driving force in the future of broadband.
He cited the CEO of Ericsson, Hans Vestberg, who said that by 2014 two thirds of the world’s three billion internet users will be mobile users. “And 80pc of these will be using technologies like LTE [Long Term Evolution].”
Ryan said that technologies such as satellite broadband will also have a large role to play in the evolution of universal broadband provision.
Satellite Broadband Ireland’s service, he said, is designed to work regardless of where a user lives or works.
In the midlands, where Satellite Broadband Ireland is based, Ryan said many small businesses are moving premises to work from home or in converted garages. “The problem is many of these businesspeople live more than three miles from the nearest telephone exchange and therefore aren’t eligible for DSL broadband.”
Satellite Broadband Ireland uses technology from European technology player Eutelsat, which is investing €7m in its Irish build-out.
“The roadmap that Eutelsat has set out currently sees services of 3.6Mbps available, moving to 10Mbps next year, and there are plans to even expand this to 40Mbps or 50Mbps.”
Ryan said the service works by connecting a special satellite dish to a modem and then rebroadcasting broadband throughout the premises using Wi-Fi. “The service is robust enough to support office environments of typically 10 people or more.”
The newest entrant to the wireless-broadband space in Ireland is Imagine, which was founded by telecoms entrepreneur Sean Bolger. Imagine recently announced it is to invest €100m in upgrading its technology, a move that could result in the creation of up to 200 new jobs.
Imagine plans to cover 90pc of the country by 2012 with WiMax services. At launch it will be available in Dublin, Athlone, Waterford and Sligo.
Bolger said Imagine’s WiMax service – which will debut at 8Mbps – is capable today of reaching 17Mbps and higher. The pricing for consumers and businesses that will adopt the service will be unveiled next week, but he promised it will come at a lower price than current fixed-line broadband services.
“4G broadband is not about speed, but about being more competitive.” He went on to say that Ireland has plenty of fibre, “now the problem is connecting to that fibre.” Bolger said WiMax could solve that access problem.
One thing is for certain, WiMax has some impressive backers. Last year, US telecoms giants Sprint and Clearwire, as well as tech firms Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks, all agreed to invest US$3.2bn in a new mobile-broadband
company, which will deploy a nationwide WiMax network to provide broadband to consumers and businesses. In Ireland, Imagine is supported by Intel, HP and Motorola.
3G mobile broadband has the capability to move from 7.2Mbps today to 28.8Kbps within the next six to 12 months, explained Paddy Collins, head of SME business at Vodafone.
“We’ve invested significantly in our 3G network and in enhancing our radio access network to an IP-based transmission network.
“We will be able to offer over the next six to 12 months 28Mbps and the network will be 4G ready for LTE.”
Collins said that the new network will enable not only faster download speeds but also greater countrywide indoor and outdoor coverage.
“We cover 90pc of the country today, but we want to grow that and improve coverage in every way possible.”
Collins said there are two main type of bundles on the Vodafone mobile-broadband network – a €16.45-per-month option with a free modem and a 10GB download limit, plus there’s a pay-as-you-go option of €4.12 per day.
“People who go for the latter option tend to use it as a business backup service. Many don’t have to pay a monthly fee, but will use mobile broadband on a day-to-day basis for employees who need to stay at home but want to continue working.”
The nature of mobile broadband – giving the user freedom and control – is what makes it ideal for businesses said Ronan Whelan, head of Corporate, Telefónica O2 Ireland.
This year, O2 is seeing more and more companies supplying their sales team with a mobile-broadband solution to enable them to spend more time in the field selling, while also remaining connected to the office.
“It is definitely a growing market: O2 currently has over 120,000 mobile-broadband customers on its base and this is rising. Research commissioned by O2 at the end of 2008/early 2009 also highlighted a major uptake of mobile broadband amongst SMEs in particular,” explained Whelan.
“According to the research [carried out by TNS mrbi], the number of senior SME managers using mobile broadband has jumped from 12pc in 2008’s survey to over a third at 34pc.”
This research clearly suggest that more Irish SMEs are seeing the benefits that mobile broadband can offer them in terms of convenience, productivity, cost effectiveness and control, said Whelan.
“Quick and easy installation is key, particularly for smaller businesses that may not have dedicated IT resources.
“High-speed and reliable access is also key. To that end, O2 completed a major network upgrade in 2008 readying it to offer a range of high-speed services, including HSDPA. Last year, O2 announced a new first-to-market enhancement to our mobile-broadband service, which enables customers to upload content at broadband speeds of up to 1.4Mbps,” added Whelan.
While 3 only entered the SME business market over a year ago, it has already connected thousands of businesses through its price plans and services.
“We have witnessed a strong uptake amongst the business community for our mobile-broadband service. Our unique business sharer price plans can offer businesses savings of up to 20pc compared to their existing broadband choice,” explained Robert Marshall, corporate affairs manager, 3 Ireland.
“Typically, our business customers are looking for a network with a wide geographical coverage. 3 Ireland has nationwide voice and text coverage, and over 90pc broadband coverage at the moment.”
As regards the kind of businesses that gravitate towards mobile broadband, Marshall said that the customer base is a healthy mix across all sectors.
“Our business customers are looking to have their mobile office on the move, which is what mobile broadband has allowed them to do, to use all of the applications of the office while on the move.
“Many of our customers want to ensure a proper work-life balance; with mobile broadband allowing employees to work remotely, this is now a reality,” he added.
As regards the broadband checklist for businesses, Marshall is of the opinion that mobile broadband ticks all of the boxes.
“To install it, all you have to do is plug your modem into your laptop, and all the work is done for you. Mobile broadband combines the very best of fixed-line broadband connectivity with the flexibility of a mobile device.”
He is confident that mobile broadband can replace the fixed line for businesses in all instances: “3 Ireland is currently upgrading its network to I-HSPA, and is now operating on 7.2Mbps technology, 14.4Mbps next year and 28Mbps by the end of 2010, bringing higher speeds and higher capacity to businesses across Ireland.
“The next major technology leap is the deployment of LTE, with 3’s network ready. LTE has the potential to deliver significant speeds.”
Eircom Mobile Broadband
While coming from a legacy of fixed-line broadband, Eircom has been finding the uptake of its mobile broadband offering has been on the rise this year.
“We anticipate continued steady growth in the segment, as businesses look to make the most of every minute of every day. This means being connected and getting work done from every part of the country,” said Fraser Heaslip, national sales manager, Eircom Mobile for Business.
Interestingly, Eircom is finding that the conventional takers for mobile broadband – the road warriors – are not alone anymore: “The traditional office-based working model has been transformed since the advent of mobile broadband, not just for the stereotypical ‘road warrior’. Thanks to good-value pricing the mobile office is also a reality for those who only require mobility on an infrequent basis.
“Allowing staff to respond to emails and access office and web-based applications while on the move or in remote locations ensures greater productivity and, ultimately, a more agile business overall,” he added.
However, while many businesses in Ireland choose to use mobile broadband for their primary connectivity, Heaslip said most companies find that a combined broadband solution of fixed and mobile offers the most flexibility and the greatest competitive advantage.
“More and more businesses are complementing their existing fixed communications infrastructure with Eircom mobile broadband to drive additional benefits to their business and their bottom line,” he explained.
Despite the advantages of fixed-line connectivity, there is no getting away from the fact that while the advantages of mobile remains the same – mobility and quick and easy deployment – high speed and reliability, which was once the domain of fixed line, is now increasingly true for a mobile connection.
“Our brand-new network is 14.4mbps capable, even faster than the devices that are currently available. Installation takes minutes and couldn’t be easier, and Eircom Mobile Broadband customers can avail of free access to our nationwide network of Wi-Fi hotspots,” said Heaslip.
By John Kennedy