Consumer Devices and the Enterprise Network

By Robert Lee Harris


Published January 14, 2011


No Jitter / SCTC Perspectives




Reflecting on what he saw at CES, our author looks at the prospects for tighter integration of consumer and enterprise technology.


How much more tech savvy can the average consumer get? And what do we really mean by tech savvy? It was clear at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that consumers are moving into the same world of virtualization and centralized applications that enterprises are striving for. Virtually all of the innovation in consumer electronics is driven by entertainment. Businesses are driven by, well, business of all things. Where will these two worlds collide in the next few years, and how will consumer products impact enterprise computing and communications?


A PC Experience on Mobile Devices
On the first Thursday of 2011, I attended a CES session titled "The Hyper Connected Consumer--Integrating the Full PC Experience into a Personal Communications Device". While this session was targeted towards the consumer, it tackled many of the same issues that the business world is addressing regarding virtualization and supporting the same user experience across multiple types of devices. It's easy to create the same user experience on a standardized notebook or desktop within the enterprise, but supporting standards across multiple interfaces, from smart phones to even a television screen becomes more challenging.


Among the panelists there was a general consensus that large screens are not going away and that big screens and big televisions have had a resurgence. There was not as much agreement on whether content providers would standardize applications in order to service every HTML5 capable device. For the most part, the Hyper connected consumer session was about web based applications and focused on texting, watching content, watching friends and social networking. It was actually on my way, 20 minutes prior to this session that I felt like I saw the real answer to the user experience question at the Motorola exhibit. It's not a software solution, it's hardware.


Motorola Atrix
Motorola was displaying their new Atrix phone as the center of their exhibit. Atrix is a 4G phone with dual core processors at 1 GB each. It also has 1 GB of RAM and up to 48GB of storage, but what is really unique about it is the accessories. The Motorola Atrix can dock into a small cradle which is hooked up to a television via HDMI and will display 720 pixels on a high-resolution television screen to stream movies or enable web browsing over the integrated Firefox browser. The next OS upgrade on the Atrix phone promises 1080 pixels over HDMI, bringing as clear a view of the visual interface as most folks have on their desktops right now. This along with a Bluetooth paired keyboard completes the personal computer like interface, driven by a very powerful portable mobile device with processing power that’s comparable to the average PC of a few years ago.


The second accessory that comes with the Atrix is a laptop dock. This is a laptop keyboard and screen with a little docking station mounted in the rear for inserting the smart phone. The smart phone is where all of the files and processing power are stored. The laptop dock is nothing but form factor, an unintelligent keyboard and screen. When do I want a sophisticated smartphone? When it means I no longer need to carry my laptop. The Motorola laptop dock is lightweight at 2.4 pounds, but the real advantage is that it leaves all of the intelligence in the mobile device. This means that I when I am ready to fly on an airplane, I can carry on my smartphone and pack the laptop module without any fear of losing valuable or sensitive information if something happens to the laptop module.


For the consumer market I see this as a big step towards eliminating the need for a standalone PC or notebook. There were all kinds of other phones with similar high definition interfaces. In my opinion, they were not as turnkey or slick of a solution as the Motorola Atrix, but the common feature set shows where we are heading. It means that using a smart phone as a video player no longer means you have to watch movies on a dinky screen, and using the smart phone as your mobile computer no longer means you have to forgo a normal sized screen or be stuck with tiny keypads or virtual keyboards (Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I still work much faster on a standard QWERTY keyboard). Because there are so many Android phones with similar features that used to be exclusive to the iPhone, the growing industry's competition can only drive the cost of these devices down.


The Home Data Center
Consumers are virtualizing their computing experience in ways that everyone is aware of, such as online document and web based email, but there are other virtualization examples that are not brand new, but show an interesting trend. Citrix offers consumers GoToMyPC, which turns their home computer into a server for a remote client application; in essence it turns a home PC into a remotely accessible data center. Like any good enterprise data center, of course it can be backed up with a solution such as Carbonite or Trend Micro SafeSync. So in the home we can have a cloud based application for virtual access to the home environment (GoToMyPC), and cloud based storage solutions for the same set of data. Consumers have shown that they are very open to virtualized computing environments (another reason that the PC could be replaced by a dockable or paired tablet or smartphone. 


Residential Media Gateways
Not everything a consumer uses will be hosted in the cloud. Once again, driven by entertainment, consumers will want to access all the stuff they have purchased, streamed or downloaded to multiple devices, including Internet enabled television sets. IPTV had a significant presence at CES, and the best place to store all that high volume content may not be in cloud storage. Residential Media Gateways, such as DLink’s DIR-657 and a storage solution such at their DNS-320 can provide a central repository for music and video in the home, even allowing remote access via their newly announced miiiCasa Home Gateway solution. If a consumer has already purchased rights to all of this media content, he/she will not want to pay an increasing monthly storage charge in the cloud every time there is a new addition to their entertainment library.


I envision many home network environments looking something like [the graphic below.] Whether it is home based media storage or virtualized applications in the cloud, a lot fewer PCs or full blown laptops will be required by consumers. 


Into the Enterprise
How will this all impact the enterprise? Will it be as simple as consumers bringing their devices into the office to login and access company data? I don't believe so, but it is very feasible that a smartphone or tablet device could have enough processing power for limited business applications and serve as a thin client for enterprise based systems.


Many of the Android based smartphones and the iPhone can use external screens and input devices, but it's the proprietary docking capability of the Motorola Atrix that makes it so easy to convert the device to one of its alternate form factors. Just as enterprise IT currently standardizes on a single laptop and docking solution, it is likely that a test rollout of a docked smartphone solution would be based on an easily supportable standard configuration, not a long list of consumer provided devices.


How about Docking the Phone?
Cell Phones as VoIP phones

With IP based second lines on cell phones, wireless synching capability and a whole section of the Consumer Electronics Show dedicated to iPhone accessories (the iLounge), we have all the ingredients for fixed mobile convergence (FMC). What is really lacking is the hardware. In the consumer market there are plenty of cell phone docking solutions that will use your cell line as your residential dial tone, or sync up your cell phone to a landline, but nothing has ever caught on in the enterprise communications market. There really isn't a mobile phone solution for enterprise deployment that docks and syncs with sturdier business telephone sets in the enterprise, shares directory information from the PBX and can be carried off for use as an IP telephone on-net or a cell phone off-net. The concept is nothing new, but most phones have enough radios in them (quad band + 802.11 + Bluetooth) to easily make this a reality. Enterprise feature access is just easier on a full sized phone than using soft keys.


Nearly every mobile phone will have the capability of an IP based second line, over WiFi or 3G/4G networks. At CES, Verizon promoted Skype Mobile with video over their 4G LTE network, promising availability by mid-2011. With or without video, this is an IP based second line on a mobile phone. This capability is more than just a marketing alliance, it is also an FCC requirement. Martha Buyer, a Telecom Attorney who is a member of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC) writes a quarterly regulatory review for the STC. In her latest article Ms. Buyer explained that with the recent net neutrality rules, wireless providers are prohibited from blocking Internet voice services (VoIP), although they will be able to block access to other applications by relying on the easy-to-understand issue of network congestion. So even if Verizon was not co-marketing with Skype, VoIP dial tone would still be allowed on the cell phone.

One of the CES Mobile App Showdown winners was SecondLine, an Android/IPhone compatible app that adds IP based dial tone, automatically switching over WiFi, 3G or 4G networks. Toktumi, the company that created the app, also provides virtual PBX and UC services to individuals and businesses. How hard would it be to take that same solution and make the IP based "second line" a station off an enterprise communications server? All you’d need is for that same device to be able to dock to an enterprise telephone hardware component and we have a pretty cool FMC solution.


With all of this in place on the network for enabling FMC, a hardware aspect will likely be a business driver. In this case the hardware is batteries. Power backup for Ethernet based VoIP phones is extremely expensive.


The first time I was involved in an enterprise voice over IP station employment, I recognized power protection as a huge minus for VoIP using Power over Ethernet. It takes so much more backup to protect a VoIP station from a power outage for four hours than it did for a TDM based station that most deployments reduce the power protection that was originally expected from a legacy system. A dockable mobile device would solve this problem. Mobile phones have a built-in battery backup--the battery. As long as the phone is docked it is using building power, and in an outage you'd have 8,24 or even 48 hours of additional power. In a worst case, the phone can run off a car charger (try doing that with a PoE based VoIP phone!).


BYOD Not Likely
There is a lot of talk about BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) business solutions, but I hear much less enthusiasm for the idea from IT managers than from companies trying to sell management solutions for BYOD and other mobility applications. Even if smartphones or tablets become the primary computing interface in the enterprise, it does not necessarily mean that these devices are owned by the employee instead of the company.


I suspect that my personal experience with smartphones is much like a lot of users. I am not that interested in a phone for entertainment. My phone is slightly more than a voice only device, but it is still a device with the primary purpose of communication, via email, text and voice. With the arguable exception of video, I saw very few applications (even enabled by fast 4G networks) that will really enhance productivity for a business user. Verizon's new 4G LTE network supports download speeds of 5 to 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5 Mbps, but the primary applications that were being demonstrated were streaming video, music and social connectivity. Just as the morning session described, the hyper connected consumer is focused on texting, watching content, watching friends and social networking. In that session Irv Henderson, Yahoo's VP of Product Management for Mobile and Connected Devices discussed optimizing the user experience by keeping track of "where they are and what they are doing". Yahoo is not the only content provider is looking to “optimize” user activity. As long as media content is driven by advertising, the need to track where the consumer is located, what they are browsing for and whose tweets they track will continue. What IT decision maker will want these devices accessing business applications on an internal network?


Everywhere you hear that consumers are "more tech savvy" than the prior generation. Consumers consume more technology than ever before, but relative to the amount of time spent with the technology, most know much less about how it works than ever. One good example is security. A recent Rasmussen Reports survey concluded that 78% of Internet users who regularly use the Internet are at least somewhat concerned about the privacy of their online searches, with 40% who are very concerned. But actual consumer behavior seems to indicate otherwise. They allow themselves to be tracked by Foursquare, tolerate shifting privacy policies from Facebook and accept Gmail ads based on the content of their communications. Sure, these are personal choices in exchange for free service, but they are not likely to be tolerated in an enterprise network environment. As mobile devices become more sophisticated on a consumer level, it will be more difficult to control the device in a business environment.


Maybe Users Won't want to BYOD
Most of the conversations about allowing consumer devices on networks are addressed from an IT perspective. What about the end users? Maybe the end user doesn’t want the device that they use in their personal life to be their company work tool. As smartphones and tablets become much more personal, with many more media applications and social applications, users may be loathe to make this their enterprise work tool as well. With a corporate liable device, businesses have a right to control the content in terms of both security and appropriateness. In June of 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers have the right to search through text messages, including personal ones, sent by workers if they have reason to believe that workplace rules are being violated. In the case that generated the ruling, a California police officer was sending messages from his department-issued Blackberry. If a business was dependent on individual liable devices (to conduct business), what is considered appropriate? How can users control incoming content during paid work hours? On the other hand, walk the hallways of many businesses, and it is amazing what folks will shop for and look at on a company PC. Employees want reasonable access to the Internet, even for personal purposes. 


Enterprise Virtualization
As far as enterprise use, I think there is already a movement towards these kind of solutions. In one way we are seeing more centralized enterprise applications through VM Ware and thin clients. A powerful smartphone will be sufficient to store individual files in between visits to branches or for home use, and with increased docking capabilities, could replace many business laptops or desktops.


The whole reasoning behind the virtualization of the enterprise computing is better control of the applications and lower costs for devices. Many companies may be fretting over their increasing costs for mobile devices, but if the next generation of mobile devices can replace PCs, the result is the thin client environment and net savings that drive centralization and virtualization to begin with. I.T. will attain the goal of managing fewer PCs and reducing costs without inheriting a new set of issues associated with user managed devices.


Also, these solutions will get cheaper. All the new 4G Android products launched at CES are the first generation and it will not be long before the costs decrease.


It will be a long time before there is enough universality in the hardware interfaces to cost effectively deploy BYOD solutions for an enterprise. By that time, the hardware will become cheap enough that there will be no good reason for the enterprise to allow an outside device as the primary interface. With decreasing device costs, I do not see why enterprise would take this risk. Much of the costs of supporting IT assets is not the hardware itself, it is the troubleshooting and support. By allowing users to bring their own devices, we may save a few pennies on the hardware in exchange for pounds and pounds of support costs, legal and personnel issues, and multiple standards to support. 


I expected to spend a lot of time reviewing 4G applications and capabilities, but this year it was all about the hardware. In an afternoon session regarding mobile trends, Panelist Roy Taylor, the General Executive Vice President of MasterImage 3D’s Mobile Division, predicted that we should expect to see more processing power, with quad core processing, increasing storage and a richer media and screen experience. It sounds a lot like the evolution of PCs. Madhava Enros, the Mobile User Experience Lead at Mozilla, predicted wireless HDMI in the phones, which is already possible via external adapters.


The hardware was amazing at CES. In both the consumer side and the business side, virtualization will happen because the interfaces are catching up with the overall concept. Even though consumers' embrace of these concepts and products for entertainment purposes is a significant driver in their development, the distinct business purposes of the same devices in enterprise communications is likely to ensure that the business and consumer network remain similar but parallel worlds. 



A side note: Headset Prediction--I really was optimistic three years ago after CES about the enterprise embracing soft phones. My reasoning was that mandated use of headsets on cars would get people so accustomed to using hands-free devices that it would be simple to deploy hands-free over a PC. Within a few months after the law being implemented in California, California's own first lady was caught driving while talking on her Blackberry. As I drive the infamous Southern California freeways I see countless examples of this law being violated, with folks thinking that holding the phone slightly away from their face somehow complies with it being hands-free.



"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.