The Mobile Office – Past, Present, Future

As you sit at your desk in your particularly immobile office, it is all too easy to dismiss the ‘mobile office’ as just another slogan. But mobile working is already a reality for organisations across the world, says Derek Williamson of T-Mobile UK
The 1990s brought major steps forward in mobile technology and, in turn, changed the way that mobile phones fit in to UK culture.

Whilst it was a business need that fed the early days of mobile phones, it was the move into mass-market culture that brought us the sleek, streamlined, multi-functional devices that we carry today. In less than 15 years, mobile phones went from being a rare and expensive business luxury, to a low-cost personal item and must-have social tool.

The arrival of the BlackBerry in 1999 brought the first major advance towards true mobile working. BlackBerry’s push-email technology fitted in comfortably alongside existing business systems, allowing users to access their mail as they would through their desktop. The popularity of the BlackBerry – with subscribers surpassing 5m in the early half of 2006 – has brought with it an expectation of further advancements towards remote working.

Going faster
In the past few years it is the improvement of network speeds that has proved the key to progress. Beyond the short-lived excitement surrounding video-telephony, 3G brought with it a major advancement in connection speeds. Mobile workers could use a 3G-enabled mobile device, alongside a service such as T-Mobile’s web’n’walk, to access the ‘real’ internet on the move.
This new world of high-speed Internet connections was further enhanced by the spread of WiFi HotSpots. WiFi subscribers could connect to the office remotely, send email, and run applications as they would do from their office desks.

In 2006, HSDPA has finally made “broadband in your pocket” a reality. For the first time connection speeds have hit a level which business users have come to expect – and this technology is now available on handheld devices, making the mobile Internet more accessible and usable than ever before.

"The search for the killer app for the mobile internet will continue, with mobile IM likely to be the first to stake a claim …"

Today, “work” is increasingly perceived as something that can happen beyond a set location; but it is still only early days for mobile working. Technology will continue to make a more flexible way of working a reality. These developments will, in turn, impact on everything, from the growing number of locations from which people will be able to link to the office to the sizes of these offices – and even the numbers of office car parking spaces outside.

We will see a convergence of those devices that business users have tended to rely upon separately in the past. No longer will you look to your BlackBerry for email services, your mobile phone for wireless calls and your PDA/laptop for access to the Internet. The next stage of devices will see those that blur the boundaries even further.

Picture a pocket-sized 6in touchscreen mobile communication device with the power and memory capacity of a laptop, the connectivity speeds of a fixed line connection, but with the addition of a magnetic keyboard for when a small hand-held keyboard isn’t up to the job: this is the way that business devices are moving.

This next generation of hybrid device will be supported by a growing network that will make mobile working a possibility in places that were previously unheard of.

We are already seeing WiFi HotSpot access on trains. This will expand in the future, encompassing access on more mainline train services, as well as airplanes and eventually the Underground.

Issues
While we do have mobile internet we are let down at present by the number of platforms that fail to interoperate between small-screened mobile devices and standard PCs. This will change. And as certain businesses have embraced mobile communications (Google, eBay), more will move in the same direction. The search for the ‘killer application’ to take the mobile internet to the masses will continue, with mobile Instant Messaging (IM) likely to be the first to stake a claim.

As we stand on the verge of the truly mobile office it is the technology that will push all these possibilities forward. The uptake, however, will continue to be dependant on businesses accepting this new way of working. Long term financial and working benefits will need to be pre-empted by wholehearted investment in the business infrastructure. This will involve changing systems, business processes, and even business culture away from a fixed-line working environment and toward a truly mobile office.

Derek Williamson is Head of Business Marketing for T-Mobile UK. He is responsible for driving business sales and delivering mobile voice and data products and services to SME and corporate customers. 
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