Mobile broadband.

Mobile broadband is the mobile phone networks’ current favourite product.  For them it’s incremental revenue with little or no infrastructure revenue. 

We’ve recently started looking at mobile broadband for business use, but it’s worth starting with a summary of why we’re so late to the party:

  • our network support team doesn’t get many calls about it
  • mobile broadband speeds are highly variable, and generally far less than the advertised top speed
  • mobile broadband support is usually installed directly from the “usb modem”, and there is a risk of it tussling with existing network support for, especially, wifi networks
  • for light use business mobile phones can often also be used for mobile broadband (though there there be terms of use restrictions which formally prohibit this)

The obvious business uses for mobile broadband are:

  • Email, particularly if you want to work with email attachments while out and about
  • Web, though arguably the current generation of smartphones are easier and quicker to use in most instance
  • Remote access to business systems

We plan to write about email later.  The gist though is that it is simple, but there are some security risks to consider.

Remote access to business systems needs to be secure, and this is generally achieved through a “vpn”. 

The details don’t really matter, but we tested with:

  • Orange mobile broadband
  • Huawei E160E usb modem
  • Cisco software vpn
  • security implemented so that the user has to provide their network username and password in order to gain access
  • Microsoft Terminal Server client

The mobile broadband connected using a 3G service.  This is the middle of the three types of service (GPRS/Edge; 3G, HSDPA) that are available.  The test was done on a Saturday, with one eye on England stepping on the Aussies. 

Perhaps as a reward for working Saturday the speed of the connection was roughly twice that during the working week.  Still nothing to cheer about though, at about 10% of the advertised maximum speed.

Connection was easy and quick, no different from connecting by landline broadband.  The good news is that the speed was ok, not great, but certainly good enough for emergency or light use. 

Although the connection was ok, if you plan regular or heavy use, then our experience suggests that you need to consider providing a web interface to your business systems.  Which is a whole other story.

There doesn’t seem to be much web based comment on mobile broadband for business use.  Colin DiPonio works in university IT and found that vpns were similarly easy to get working.  His experience is with Linux rather than Windows computers though.  It has to be said that this is an occasion where I’d happily trade the openness of Linux support (provided via NetworkManager and ConnMan) for the Windows experience of software being thrown willy nilly at our carefully maintained computers by the usb modems.

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