Mobile data: There's no quick fix for network issues, so do your homework

Mobile data services could become more unpredictable and more costly so tread carefully with long-term contracts...

Mobile data traffic has gone through the roof in the past few years, so it's doubly important that organisations do their homework on the quality of service and coverage offered by providers - and beware long-term contracts, says Josie Sephton.

Smartphones have become increasingly smart, providing access to multimedia content and social networking sites. On top of the boom in smartphones, there's been solid growth in the use of mobile broadband PCs, and more recently, tablet devices.

These developments, along with the many attractive mobile broadband packages, have meant that mobile data usage has gone through exponential growth over the past few years.

But this growth isn't without a price. From a user point of view, mobile broadband quality - which was already viewed as the poorer cousin of fixed in terms of its ability to deliver - has increasingly suffered as sales guys on the road accessing company resources compete with workers relaxing on their way home with a few YouTube videos.

Network congestion and dropped calls
Unsurprisingly, the outcome, as we have regularly found in our ongoing dialogue with enterprises using mobile data services, is congested, slow networks with frequent connection drops in busy areas at busy times.

Of course, any service can run the risk of disruption. However, when a data connection drops, it is arguably more of a problem than a dropped voice call, particularly if the data call relates to a critical, work-related transfer, and can result in a download needing to be restarted, or even in extreme cases, lost data.

With more enterprise applications now reliant on browser-based interfaces, losing a screen full of updates might not be a huge loss, but it's very disruptive.

One could legitimately argue that mobile operators do themselves no favours by advertising data speeds that are rarely achieved in practice - something that has been shown to be the case in tests carried out by users and various bodies.

While this issue is an annoyance to consumers - albeit in some cases a significant one - for businesses, it may be much more of a problem, particularly when it affects key field service staff.

From a business perspective, these service issues only matter if companies genuinely care about data performance. But as recent research undertaken by Freeform Dynamics with enterprises showed, when it comes to selecting a mobile service provider, quality of service, encompassing areas such as coverage and reliability, and data performance are very high up the list of decision criteria.

Graph showing quality of service and data performance are important factors when choosing mobile data provider

Quality of service and data performance are important factors when choosing mobile data provider
(Image credit: Freeform Dynamics)

There is no quick and easy fix to the problem. A network upgrade isn't usually a particularly palatable option to service providers, and does little more than...