Andy Hinxman discusses the problem of getting wireless on the go for small businesses and how the situation should improve soon.
Have you ever been on the train trying to use the Wi-Fi and it cuts out just as you are about to send that really important email? Or you’ve found the website you want and hey presto – no internet signal. You can buy Wi-Fi vouchers, crouch in the corridor next to First Class (to jump onto their free internet) or just use your phone. But however you get online it is enough to make you throw your device out of the window when it stops working halfway through what you are doing.
The problem is that nowadays so many of us running small businesses (and big businesses too) have to work on the move. Clients expect responses within the hour. If you don’t get that quote across in time you won’t be in the running. If your teenage son or daughter has WhatsApp’ed you about their friends staying over and you haven’t got the message, you may be in for a nasty surprise when you get home and the house is full of teenagers consuming the contents of your fridge.
As a small business, getting access to wireless connections on the go is becoming increasingly important. So knowing this you’d think that suppliers would make it more reliable. Proximity to the Wireless hub is key but if you’re travelling in the opposite direction there isn’t much you can do to strengthen the signal.
Overground trains still rely on a wireless connection to a phone network. As the train isn’t stationary this can of course cause intermittent problems, much like on your mobile phone. Some tube stations, are now providing Wi-Fi, this is increasing but it is still limited to the stations and platforms. There is currently no Wi-Fi on underground trains themselves. In many cases 4G is proving to be far more reliable and cost effective.
While battling with signal issues you also need to consider security. When you are desperate to send that email it is tempting to use any connection you can find. Data sent over the Wi-Fi network is encrypted, but, anyone can access the network and hackers sometimes set up networks simply to steal your details, so do use caution. So consider carefully before connecting to any Wi-Fi network you’re not familiar with.
Wired connections can be regarded as more secure. It is far more difficult to penetrate them but be warned – a broken or faulty cable can affect it. Nevertheless if someone were to access your network internally, like your office, then you are equally vulnerable.
Things should soon improve. This month the government announced that everyone in the UK will have a right to get access to fast broadband by 2020. It is aimed at creating a new ‘universal service obligation’ – USO – for people living in remote areas. One of my clients lives between Coventry and Rugby and struggles to get even 1Mbps. I would hardly call that remote!
Bigger and better bandwidth measures for wireless connections will mean that more people can connect and not experience the pain of slow buffering. This USO would put broadband on a par with other essential services like the Post Office, water and electricity.
So what does it mean for those of us who work on the move? How will it benefit commuters and business travellers? Again it is about proximity to the wireless hub. More hubs en-route will make it easier to connect and stay connected. If everyone in the country gets the promised 10Mbps that is going to stop it dropping out as you go through a rural area.
Of course we could simply put down our phones, laptops and mobile devices and instead enjoy the view from the train window. We could talk to the passenger beside us. We could even read a book. After all work will still be there tomorrow. Travel time could become the new ‘me’ time. But I don’t think so. The pace at which we work nowadays makes it vital to have a reliable and fast internet connection and there is no going back. Anything else and you could find yourself and your business going off the rails.
Andy Hinxman is founder of Keybridge IT Solutions.