Feature Story

Staying Connected to the Mobile Cloud – Why Your Future Depends On It

by Kerry Doyle

As the cloud continues to diversify—encompassing all things mobile—companies will require seamless connectivity to meet the demand from its workforce and customers.

Today's 24/7 business cycle depends on company infrastructures that are always up and running as well as the near constant availability of an increasingly mobile workforce. Losing transactions due to inadequate resources, data storage or unavailability is no longer an option.

 That's where mobile devices and their reliance on the cloud come in. It's well known that Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has taken hold both in the U.S. and globally. While IT departments scramble to keep pace, the current corporate workforce is not looking back.

 According to GSMA, the global mobile industry trade group, the total number of mobile connected devices will double from 6 billion in 2012 to 12 billion by 2020. For mobile operators this explosive growth translates to nearly $1.2 trillion in revenue by 2020. All of this hinges, of course, on seamless connectivity and unfettered application and network access.

User demand for cloud-based content and applications is constantly on the increase. Many users already make a daily experience of accessing cloud content without realizing it: Facebook, GMail, Flickr and LinkedIn are essentially cloud services.

With the mobile cloud, users connect to their applications and data which essentially reside out there on servers in remote datacenters, instead of on their local device. Users then pay only for the connection process and the services they access, the same way corporations use the public cloud.

 It's safe to say that as new hardware innovations are introduced, the computing landscape will gradually evolve. Currently, a majority of mobile devices lack the computing power, display and other features found in desktop PCs. Smart devices—smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks—thus rely on the mobile cloud to store data and do the heavy computing for them.

Disqus: Do you find yourself relying more on mobile devices than you have in the past?

As this paradigm shift continues from a PC-centric business culture to an all-mobile computing world, confusion often arises over defining exactly what "mobile cloud" means and differentiating it from the general cloud. The mobile cloud, then, can be defined as the specific goods (e.g. apps, image/voice recognition, devices, etc.) and services that comprise, and support, the mobile eco-system.

 In addition to definitions, the mobile cloud is also hampered by connectivity problems. Latencies and bandwidth dilemmas are the mobile cloud issues that won't go away. And if you live outside of major metropolitan areas, the situation can be acute. Latency relates to the speed with which a device downloads content. Think back to all the times you've waited while a video buffers or an ad uploads on your favorite news site.

Because the mobile cloud is closely involved with "The Internet of Things," that is, object-to-object communication, it's crucial that data exchanges occur quickly and efficiently. When it's a simple action, such as activating home climate sensors, it's not a major problem. However, when it's related to business supply-chain actions, such as transportation, shipping or monetary exchanges, the costs of latencies for companies can be steep.

The introduction of new products, and the roll-out of 3G/4G LTE networks will help, but the amount of traffic is daunting. A quadrupling of IP Internet traffic will occur by 2015 to reach 966 exabytes. (In 2004, the number for global monthly Internet traffic was one exabyte.)

In addition, 4G roll-out is limited in the U.S. and while Wi-Fi can partially improve latency, it may decrease bandwidth. Moreover, the signal quality of Wi-Fi has significant deterioration issues depending on a user's proximity.

One of the greatest advantages of LTE is capacity. However, bandwidth problems occur when many mobile devices are present trying to gain online access, especially when using the Internet standard, HSPA (High-Speed-Packet-Access).  Connectivity issues are especially important as more corporations are interested in providing mobile access to many of their core applications.

Deploying lots of small, low-cost apps to its workforce and customers, downloadable via the mobile cloud, companies can maintain their own security, customize according to internal needs and bypass off-the-shelf solutions. For businesses, smartphone and tablet applications aimed at customers represent opportunities for these users to interact directly with the companies they follow.

In the same way, smart device software development relies on the mobile cloud. Core process and GUI development for smart devices is critical in keeping up with mobile device innovations. In the future, mobile phones and tablets will access dual-core processors, increased memory, enhanced screen displays, cameras and card slots for peripherals.

With more power packed into smaller devices, an increased reliance on seamless connectivity will also come into play. Today, we endure dropped calls and frequent disconnects as inconveniences. However, the coming explosion in smart device usage and business reliance on mobile/remote workers as well as increased commercial business transactions cannot tolerate sub-par connectivity.

There are several new technologies on the horizon that promise agile network resource deployment to minimize these latencies. For example, data caching enabled by the newest programming language, HTML5 and CSS3, will decrease network problems and congestion. However, plain old network performance management will become increasingly important to the mobile cloud. Better network monitoring systems enable traffic re-routing and swapping based on traffic load patterns and user location.

These improvements, and others in the pipeline, will help to improve the functioning of the mobile cloud and enhance the user experience. In the end, they will make it more viable for corporations that are interested in providing mobile access to their applications, meeting the demands of their workforce and servicing an increasingly mobile customer base.


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