Has world gone mobile (and football) mad?

During the last World Cup, the big questions being asked in the IT space were how much network bandwidth would be consumed by employees watching matches on their PCs at work (lots), and how much productivity would be lost as a result (also lots). But this time round, the buzz is mobile. “Mobile phone networks set for football overload”, read a press release typical of its genre, from videomail specialist Mobeon.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but client-server could be the new legacy platform. After the mainframe we had midrange computing, and then client-server. There may remain some excitement around the PC platform when it comes to technologies like Ajax, or Linux (or dare I say it, Google) but it seems mobile is the new paradigm that counts.

It’s certainly mobile that has been making the running in World Cup-technology-related-headline stakes. Mobeon, for instance, noted that this year’s World Cup will see over three million videos shared by mobile phone users. “During the tournament’s 64 games,” the release explained, “tens of millions of photos and video clips will be sent to friends and family. However, the effect of these larger files and the increased amount of bandwidth required, will put pressure on European networks that are already working at near capacity.”

Mobeon’s analysis appeared to have been borne out by another release, this time from Argogroup, a specialist in mobile user experience testing. “UK mobile operators continue to fumble major sporting championship,” the company’s release thundered. The day after the England-Trinidad & Tobago match, it said: “The content teams from all five UK mobile operators were dramatically out-performed last night by the old-fashioned Internet, delivering news of Peter Crouch’s late header as many as five minutes later than the free alert sent to mobile users by FIFA and Yahoo.”

Argogroup noted that Orange performed consistently and that T-Mobile performed well on SMS alerts, but said that news of Crouch’s goal reached users of FIFA’s free alert service in just over two minutes compared with the four-operator average of 3.95 minutes. The fifth operator failed to deliver altogether. But while mobile content services may not be perfect, it is indisputable that they are moving into the mainstream.

It’s not just football-related mobile news that has been grabbing the headlines. At analyst firm Gartner’s Wireless and Mobile Summit, Nick Jones, vice president and distinguished analyst, noted that, “We are witnessing the ‘growing up’ of mobility, as it becomes increasingly controlled and managed as part of corporate architecture and strategy.”

“As mobility becomes mainstream,” Jones added, “enterprises are seeing the need to formalise this by developing mobile policies and strategies. They are making strategic decisions, such as which vendor will be their strategic mobile partner, for the first time.”

As mobile moves into the mainstream from a corporate data provision and collaboration standpoint, now is probably a good time to stop treating it as an after-thought in enterprise technology infrastructures. Just as processing power moved from mainframe, to midrange, to client-server, an awful lot of work now gets done on mobile platforms — from Blackberrys to laptops.

Don’t think, though, that in the corporate environment the provision of laptops to employees means the company has a sound mobile strategy. Indeed a recent survey by Avanade — the Microsoft and Accenture joint venture — found that laptops will account for a mere third of a firm’s mobile estate by 2010. Two thirds of UK companies plan to increase their use of PDAs and BlackBerrys, while half intend to increase investment in 3G phones and tablets.

I offer one final data-point to back up my argument that client-server is becoming the legacy platform and that enterprises need to address their mobile strategies. A survey by Forrester Custom Research and commissioned by mobile banking specialist Meridea, found that one in four users would consider switching banks if they were offered free mobile banking services.

We may not have reached the stage where the majority of employees would consider switching employers if they are denied the mobile productivity tools from their enterprise that they have come to rely on in their personal lives. But I am certain that there are a number who would opt for the enterprise with a modern attitude to mobile productivity, all else being equal.

Enterprises though need to take the same measured approach to their mobile infrastructure as they slowly learned to take in the client-server space. Up-front costs of devices and software are only one element — just as we found they were with PCs — and ongoing total cost of ownership is a more important metric for businesses.

Management, security, and a policy that governs mobile provision and use are all equally key. It also makes increasing sense to standardise on a mobile provider in order to wring cost savings from one large account, while some providers are now able to offer GPRS, EDGE, 3G and Wifi access, as well as numerous device options and configurations to suit different users, all under the same contract.

Of course, just as in the era of client-server, there will still be occasions when all your employees want to see on their device is a video clip of Rooney’s latest goal. At least with an effective mobile strategy in place, those same employees might just choose to respond to a few emails during half time, no matter where they are.

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