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Simple, Upgradable, Economical Cellular Data Connectivity Has Been Here All Along

This guest blog post comes from Tracey Spoon, Senior Systems Engineer at MobileDemand -- Like never before, we live in a connected world.  How many cell phones have you seen lately that do not have data service?  Most folks don’t really think about it but when the cellular industry migrated to all digital service (2G) way back in the late 90’s everything became data including your voice.  Today, we’ve blown through 3G and are at 4G, LTE and still wanting more.  The desire and need to be constantly connected applies as much or more to business as consumer.  And speed is often even more critical for the mobile worker.

To take advantage of this constantly changing cellular landscape cellular phones have a very short shelf life.  Many thousands of a particular phone model are manufactured in a short period of time and then they are on to the next model with new features and support for the very latest cellular technology.  This constant churn is supported by cellular carrier subsidies.  Extend your contract every year or two and get a new free or heavily discounted phone.  You may wonder why they do that.  Well, it’s all about the service and keeping you as a subscriber.  It’s also about competition and that helps drive the technology.  It’s an extremely expensive proposition for the cellular carriers to roll out new technology.  Giving you the incentive to have a new phone indirectly funds the effort by keeping you a customer but also allows them to retire older technology at the same time. 

But, what about mobile computers?  The cellular industry wants you to be connected, too.  Again, it’s all about the service.  If your device has a built in cellular modem, well, great.  It’s convenient for you and the cellular carrier.  It’s not that they want you to buy your computer or tablet from them.  That’s not really their business model.  They just want you to have a cellular modem that locks you into their network.

So, does this all really apply to business?  Absolutely!  Not only does it apply in the form of BYOD, but it’s even more crucial with specialized devices like rugged tablet PC’s.  Why?  Because they are expected to last and continue to perform for a much longer time than consumer devices.   Most businesses plan for a 3 to 5 year life cycle and sometimes much longer.  How many technology changes in the cellular industry will occur in that period of time?  And what’s the alternative?  GOBI technology from Qualcomm was a step in the right direction.  It gave business a way to change from one cellular carrier to another without having to change hardware and manufacturers benefited by only having to integrate one cellular modem into their devices.  On the downside, it’s expensive, but most of all, it didn’t and can’t address the evolution of cellular technology.

What can?  Well, nothing.  As a good customer friend of mine said to me years ago, “I’ve learned the only way to have the latest greatest technology, is to buy it and die! – there’ll be something new tomorrow!”

rugged tablet pc wireless wwan 3g 4g lteSo, when cellular technology changes are we really stuck with the old technology for years or have to buy whole new devices?  NO!  There is a solution and it has been around in one form or another for as long as cellular data – standalone cellular modems.  Today, they are typically available as USB devices and all cellular carriers offer them.  USB cellular modems (often called “sticks”) are constantly changing and new models are frequently introduced to take advantage of new innovations in technology.  And much like cellular phones the cellular carriers want you to have them as long as they have your business.  The cost then, is low to negligible.  To install them is as simple as plugging it into the ubiquitous USB port on your device and installing the carrier’s software.  Changing from one cellular carrier to another or even upgrading to the latest technology is as simple as unplugging your existing USB cellular modem, plugging in another and updating the software as necessary.  Of course, the same scenario applies should a USB cellular modem fail for any reason – simply replace it - no need to send it to a service center.

There is another device that should be mentioned.  Interestingly, it doesn’t have a generic name.  It’s a portable cellular modem with a built-in Wi-Fi router.  It’s sometimes incorrectly referred to as a MiFi which is actually a Novatel trademark name for their version of such a device.  It’s still relatively economical and connects to the device via its own short range 802.11 network which offers the additional advantage of allowing multiple devices to connect simultaneously.  Some smart phones offer this capability as well. 

There have to be downsides, right?  The major concerns are susceptibility to loss or theft and breakage, and occasionally, performance.  With MiFi type devices there’s the added concern of security on the WiFi side.  These are particularly significant issues for businesses.  Check out MobileDemand’s new USB Expansion Module.  It answers all the concerns and allows business to truly take advantage of simple, upgradable and economical cellular data connectivity in a rugged tablet PC.

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