Connectivity is a top priority for most mobile workers today. Though many businesses provide workers with devices, simply having the device is not enough; mobile workers need an internet connection to work productively on-the-go. The Global State of Mobile Networks report confirms that Wi-Fi remains the dominant connection choice, outpacing cellular networks as the most common connection in 38 countries in 2017.
In recent years, as device usage and the number of Wi-Fi hotspots boomed, people soon realised that Wi-Fi could provide them with a cheap, fast and widely accessible connectivity option, at home and abroad. As a result, a term was coined in 2012 to describe this connectivity preference – Wi-Fi First. In other words, Wi-Fi is used as the primary way to connect to the internet and make calls, with cellular used to fill in any gaps. While constant connectivity is now essential to a productive mobile workforce, IT teams must make sure that for their business, Wi-Fi First is both secure and cost-effective.
Wi-Fi security is a major concern for IT teams, with a recent iPass survey of CIOs finding that more than 80% had experienced Wi-Fi related security issues over the last 12 months. Mobile workers will always have tasks that require connectivity and whether they have access to secure networks or not, they will usually find a way to get connected. This can open the business to various security risks, especially if employees connect to unsecured public hotspots.
Businesses need to implement company-wide procedures to enable users to get the connection they need without risking security. Educating workers about the various threats posed by open Wi-Fi networks can help them identify and avoid risky networks. Encouraging workers to use Virtual Private Networks is also essential, as they offer a protected connection regardless of Wi-Fi network, location, or device type.
Cost is also a huge issue for companies looking to keep their mobile workforce connected. Left alone, mobile workers often switch between Wi-Fi and cellular depending on availability, with this lack of consistency likely resulting in greater costs for businesses. This is because expenses are not limited to one type of connection. In the case of cellular, costs increase due to draconian roaming rates and high levels of data consumption, while on-demand Wi-Fi use can drive up costs if users pay multiple times a day to connect in different locations, such as hotels, airports and conference centres. A combination of the two can soon rack up significant connectivity costs.
One way to manage costs is to implement a company-wide Wi-Fi-led connectivity strategy. This means that mobile devices, whether personal or company-liable, will use Wi-Fi as their primary network when connecting to the internet and only use cellular to fill any gaps. Technologies, such as the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Passpoint®, are also providing mobile workers with a seamless ‘cellular-like’ Wi-Fi experience. Instead of searching for, choosing and requesting connection to a given access point each time, Passpoint automates the process and still provides the industry-standard in security. By reducing the need for users to manually choose a Wi-Fi hotspot or cellular connection, businesses can reduce costs and provide a better user experience.
It makes sense for IT teams to align themselves with their Wi-Fi First mobile workforce. But keeping remote workers connected and productive by offering the best connectivity experience possible must go hand-in-hand with keeping costs down and ensuring the safety of corporate data.