Research: The realities of wireless working

Research conducted by Rhetorik in conjunction with ZDNet.co.uk has shed light on how companies are using the latest networking technologies such as HSDPA

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  • GSM (2G) technology is still extensively in use, although in many cases this may be applied together with higher-speed networks within the enterprise. Migrating beyond 2G, GPRS (2.5G) is now widely deployed, in line with the large number of mobile devices now compatible with this technology. Two-thirds of the research base reported the use of GPRS.
  • EDGE enhancements to GPRS were in place for around a third of researched organisations and over half are currently up to true 3G speeds through the use of UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System). Perhaps surprisingly, 15 percent of our respondent base claims to have already deployed 3.5G technology, with HDPA capability.
  • In two years the use of 3G or 3.5G technology is expected to be the norm. More than half of all respondents able to give an opinion on this matter anticipate use of these high-speed mobile technologies by that time.
  • End-user interest in a broad range of mobile applications is strong. If bandwidth, cost and availability were no longer constraints, the breadth and coverage of many such applications throughout UK enterprises would increase significantly. The applications with greatest prominence, in the main, would still be those with significant use today, but the potential for growth in many of these together with a number of little-used applications would be significant.
  • In addition to voice, the most sought-after mobile applications are email, internet access, data communications, SMS (text messaging), electronic diary, GPS (global positioning systems), instant messaging, videoconferencing, database applications and personal directory.
  • However, the greatest potential for increased usage lies with mobile videoconferencing, GPS, database applications, instant messaging and shared workspace applications. More than 30 percent of enterprises researched have the potential to become new users of these mobile applications if the previously mentioned constraints were removed.
  • The key drivers of higher network speed were related to improved efficiencies in remote working, the increasing size of data files and applications that need to be accessed remotely, and increased end-user demand for remote access to a range of applications. Other drivers of importance were linked to the trend towards higher numbers of mobile workers, increases in homeworking and the desire of many enterprises to reduce business travel.
  • The most important barriers to increased network speed were clearly related to cost and security issues. Costs of airtime, costs of upgrading existing business applications and costs/sophistication of the devices required were key, together with the security threats brought about by increased remote use and access to further applications on higher-speed networks. Also of significance were concerns over the management and support of the types of devices connected.

Introduction, scope and methodology
The evolution of mobile network technologies is moving apace. Following the move to digital technology in the 1990s and with the ever-increasing data-transfer rates over the past few years, the applications possible across mobile networks and their cost effectiveness in use are developing rapidly.

It is perhaps worth summarising the key evolutionary stages in network development to put the subsequent analysis by network technology in this report into perspective.

Mobile radio telephone systems (sometimes now referred to as 0G technology) preceded mobile telephony technology. In commercial form, they date back to the 1940s. The first mobile telephony systems were introduced in the 1980s and growth took off from that time. These first-generation (1G) standards were based on analogue technology and required the use of a modem for data transmission.  This technology was superseded in the 1990s by second-generation (2G) digital standards.

Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) is the most popular standard for mobile phones in the world, and is the standard 2G technology in Europe. It is based on Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) technology and uses circuit switched data connections. The first GSM network was launched in Europe in 1991. However, applications usage is limited on the basic GSM network due to the relatively slow connection speeds (9.6Kbps (kilobits per second)). General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a mobile data service available to users of GSM and is based on packet switching technology. It can be considered as an overlay network on GSM. 2G systems combined with GPRS are often referred to as "2.5G", and offer intermediate data transfer rates between 2G and 3G (~60-80Kbps download and 20-40Kbps upload).

Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE or EDPRS) is a further evolution of GPRS and is based on more modern coding systems. It has been introduced into GSM networks around the world since 2003. Although technically a 3G network technology, it is generally classified as the unofficial standard "2.75G", due to its slower network speed. Data-transfer rates are typically around 177.6-236.8Kbps download and 59.2-118.4Kbps upload.

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) is one of the third-generation (3G) mobile phone technologies, and is the European answer to the ITU IMT-2000 requirements for 3G mobile telephony systems. Implementation of 3G networks across Europe was delayed in many countries during the early part of this decade by the high costs of additional spectrum licensing fees. The first European UMTS network was launched in the Isle of Man in 2001, but rollout across most European countries started to take place over the period 2003-2006. Typical transmission speeds for mobile systems are around 384Kbps.

Since 2006, UMTS networks in many countries have been in the process of upgrading to High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA). Current HSDPA deployments support 1.8Mbps, 3.6Mbps, 7.2Mbps and 14.4Mbps download speeds. Work is also progressing on improving the uplink transfer speed with High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA), which can theoretically offer up to 5.7Mbps upload speeds. HSDPA and HSUPA are commonly referred to as 3.5G technology.

In our research we set out to investigate the degree of implementation of the existing network technologies throughout the UK, as well as future plans for upgrades. Furthermore, we looked at the applications mobile users would wish to have available if bandwidth, cost and availability was no longer an issue. We also investigated the main drivers and barriers to adoption by user and potential-user enterprises of all types and sizes.

This research was carried out as part of a broader research study sponsored by Orange UK investigating the top mobile trends today and their impact on UK enterprises. The study was undertaken by ZDNet.co.uk in association with Rhetorik, a specialist market intelligence organisation that focuses specifically on European IT and telecommunications markets.

The survey used web-based survey techniques with a detailed questionnaire applied through the ZDNet.co.uk research panel, as well as a broad sample of knowledgeable respondents drawn from readership of specialist CNET technical publications.

The research was conducted with a significant sample of 371 organisations of all types and sizes with some degree of mobility within the workforce. A breakdown of these respondents by size of organisation is presented below.

Figure 1: Breakdown by company size

Q42 Approximately how many people are employed in your organisation (in the UK)? (single response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Current and future use of mobile carrier technologies
We first set out to investigate the degree of implementation of the differing network technologies throughout the UK, as well as future plans for upgrades.

Use of mobile carrier technologies
When questioned on current deployment of mobile network technologies, many companies reported multiple technologies in use.

There was a degree of uncertainty among the surveyed organisations over the range of technology applied, with more than a quarter unable to answer this question. However, based on the input from those able to respond, it is encouraging to note that implementation of the higher bandwidth technologies is clearly already significant.

For around two-thirds of enterprises researched, 2G GSM technology is still in use, although in many cases this may be used together with higher-speed networks within the enterprise. Migrating beyond 2G, GPRS (2.5G) is now widely deployed, in line with the large number of mobile devices now compatible with this technology. A similar two-thirds of the research base reported the use of GPRS.

EDGE enhancements to GPRS were used by around a third of these organisations, and over half are currently up to true 3G speeds through the use of UMTS. Perhaps surprisingly, 15 percent of our respondent base claims to have already deployed 3.5G technology, with HDPA capability.

Figure 2: Mobile network technologies in use

Q29 Which of the following carrier technologies are currently employed for mobile applications in your organisation? And which do you expect to be used in the near future (next two years)? (multiple response)
Base: All knowledgeable respondents; Total: 273
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Projected future use of mobile carrier technologies
Uncertainty was higher still when questioned on the technologies expected to be in use in two years' time, with more than half of all enterprises in the survey unable to respond. However, what was clear was the continuing relentless surge by these mobile users towards higher bandwidth.

In two years the use of 3G or 3.5G technology is expected to be the norm. More than half of all respondents able to give an opinion on this matter anticipate making use of these high-speed technologies for mobile applications within their organisations. Current use of GSM (2G) and GPRS (2.5G) technology is expected to fall.

Figure 3: Mobile network technologies in future use

Q29 Which of the following carrier technologies are currently employed for mobile applications in your organisation? And which do you expect to be used in the near future (next two years)? (multiple response)
Base: All knowledgeable respondents; Total: 168
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Mobile applications: If bandwidth were no constraint
With the continuing rapid developments in network bandwidth, it was interesting to explore the applications respondents would like to have available on mobile handheld devices if bandwidth, cost and availability were no longer constraints.

The list of applications identified was long, and these applications have been broken down in the following sections into those in greatest demand (the key mobile applications) and a range of other applications for which demand was nevertheless still strong.

Key mobile applications
Tier 1 applications identified in terms of overall demand were widely available today. Email, voice, internet access, data communications, SMS (text messaging) and electronic calendars were all required by more than two-thirds of our respondents.

Tier 2 key applications were the requirement for GPS, instant messaging, mobile videoconferencing, database applications and a personal directory. Each of these was specified by between half and two-thirds of respondents.

The very smallest organisations saw less demand for a number of these applications, influenced by the number of contacts held and the applications in use within the small office environment. Lower demand was seen by this group for instant messaging, electronic diary and personal directory applications, as well as access to database applications.

Figure 4: Access to key mobile applications

Q30 Earlier in this survey you told us about the mobile applications in current use. However, assuming that there were no constraints on bandwidth, cost and availability, which of these mobile applications would you like to have access to within your organisation in the future? (multiple response)
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Although this analysis represents the overall requirement for these applications should the constraints be removed, perhaps greater insight can be obtained by comparing this latent demand with current use (questioned elsewhere in this survey) to identify those that are currently underachieving their potential.

Looked at in this way, the opportunities for increased usage by key applications fall into three broad categories, as follows.

1. Greatest benefit would be seen for:

  • Mobile videoconferencing
  • GPS
  • Database applications
  • Instant messaging

These applications offer the potential for very strong growth in uptake in the future. Approximately 30-45 percent of the respondent base could potentially be new adopters of these applications if the constraints were removed.

2. Some growth in usage is likely for:

  • Email
  • Internet access
  • Personal directory
  • Data communications applications

Around 10-15 percent of the respondent base could be new adopters of these applications under these circumstances.

3. Little effected by the constraints are voice and SMS applications, with no significant impact on current usage.

Other mobile applications
Among the other important applications, again two tiers can be identified in level of demand.

Tier 1 applications include the requirement for video capabilities, shared workspace, image capture and transmission, access to the customer relationship management (CRM) system, presence (availability) information and high-quality audio. Many of these applications are in limited use on mobile devices today but, should these constraints be removed, would be attractive to between one-third and half of respondents.

Tier 2 applications include whiteboarding, contactless smartcard payment, access to the company enterprise resource planning/enterprise resource management (ERP/ERM) system, push-to-talk capabilities, and other business process applications running within the enterprise. All of these were in current use by less than 10 percent of respondents at this time but, should constraints be removed, between a quarter and one third of the research base would like to have access.

Again, the very smallest organisations stood out from all other sectors in their demand for certain mobile applications. Collaborative working using shared workspace was less of a requirement and generally demand for access to all business process applications, such as CRM and ERP/ERM, was lower for this group.

Figure 5: Access to other mobile applications

Q30 Earlier in this survey you told us about the mobile applications in current use. However, assuming that there were no constraints on bandwidth, cost and availability, which of these mobile applications would you like to have access to within your organisation in the future? (multiple response)
Base: All respondents; Total 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

When comparing this unconstrained demand with current use, there is potential for growth in all of these applications, as many are little-used at this time. However, the overall potential by application falls into three broad groupings, as follows.

1. The greatest opportunity lies with:

  • Shared workspace — around 36 percent of new adopters would seek to work collaboratively with this application

2. Next, between 25 and 30 percent would be new adopters of:

  • Contactless smartcards
  • Whiteboarding
  • Access to the company CRM
  • High-quality audio
  • Presence (availability) information
  • Video applications

3. In the lowest category, but still offering significant potential, between 15 and 20 percent of all respondents would be new adopters of:

  • Other business process applications
  • Push-to-talk applications
  • Access to the company ERP/ERM
  • Image capture and transmission

Drivers and restraints of increased mobile-network speed
To understand better what was driving demand for ever-increasing bandwidth and the factors that were currently constraining uptake, we asked respondents to rate lists of possible benefits and barriers of increased network speed in importance to their organisation.

Drivers for increased speed
Figure 6 presents the percentage of respondents noting each driver as "important" or "very important" to their organisation in the implementation of higher-speed networks.

The key drivers identified were related to improved efficiencies in remote working, the increasing size of data files and applications that need to be accessed remotely, and generally increased end-user demand for remote access to a range of applications. All of these were considered important or very important by around 70-75 percent of all respondents, and the first two were of particular importance, rated "very important" by more than one-third of all the organisations we researched.

Other important drivers were related to the trend towards higher numbers of mobile workers, increases in homeworking and the need many enterprises see to reduce business travel for efficiency and/or environmental reasons.

Demand for the use of collaborative applications was considered rather less important as a driver at this time, as was the perceived demand for videoconferencing.

Figure 6: Drivers of increased network speed

Q31 How important do you consider each of the following as drivers for increased speed within your mobile network? Please rate on a scale of one to five, where one is "very important" and five is "very unimportant".
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

Barriers to increased speed
Figure 7 presents the percentage of respondents rating each barrier as "important" or "very important" to their organisation.

The key barriers to increased network speed at this time were clearly related to cost and security issues. Costs of airtime, costs of upgrading existing business applications and costs/sophistication of the devices required were the three most important factors identified in this research. Security threats brought about by increased remote use and access to further applications on higher-speed networks, although fourth in terms of overall importance, were rated "very important" by nearly one-third of all respondents, and was second only to costs of airtime on this highest-importance rating.

Another significant barrier was concerns over the management and support of devices. A number of other barriers to uptake were identified and all were of considerable importance to these end-user organisations. However, lack of end-user demand was considered the least important of all possible barriers, confirming the importance of end-user pull as a driver of demand in this area.

Lack of end-user demand was rated a little higher as a barrier in the very smallest organisations, showing a degree of satisfaction with current mobile capabilities in these companies. However, of less concern to this sector were security and misuse of data issues, presumably because of the limited number of potential users.

Figure 7: Barriers to increased network speed

Q32 How important do you consider each of the following as barriers to increased speed within your mobile network? Please rate on a scale of one to five, where one is "very important" and five is "very unimportant".
Base: All respondents; Total: 371
Source: Rhetorik 2007

About Rhetorik
Rhetorik delivers market research services focused exclusively on IT and telecoms industries. To meet the challenges of these fast-moving and highly competitive markets, our clients need a consultancy that truly understands the issues and concerns that drive them.

With an in-house team of highly trained researchers working exclusively in these markets, we have a particular focus on end-user research and employ a range of quantitative and qualitative research techniques to provide a unique portfolio of research services, including:

  • Face-to-face interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Telephone interviews
  • Web-based surveys
  • Research panels

For more details visit the Rhetorik website or contact Rick Paskins on +44 (0)118 989 8580 or at mailto:rpaskins@rhetorik.com.