While a lot has been written about the technical benefits of 4G LTE, and its applications from a B2C perspective, no one has taken a structured look at the impact that LTE could have on businesses. In Arthur D. Little's recent white paper we did just that. While our report was commissioned by U.K. operator EE and drawn from a U.K. survey, its conclusions can be applied globally. Indeed the study was based largely on user interviews in leading LTE markets, like Sweden, Japan, and the United States.
While the survey indicated a surprisingly high level of satisfaction with LTE, the companies we interviewed often found it hard to pinpoint or quantify the specific productivity or cost improvements they experienced. We often heard the general comment "the experience is just much better."
To some extent, we have to be general about LTE's impact on firms. The improvement in all-round functionality and user experience means LTE's most pivotal role is in the general trend of increasing mobility within enterprises. A professor from one U.S. business school agreed, stating that LTE will be "a facilitator of the entire move to mobile. I expect LTE to get the corporate mobility ball rolling much faster."
In many cases, the improved user experience and practicality of LTE will also hasten uptake of existing applications that already work on mobile devices--but just not very well. If a CIO is testing a new product or application--and the quality is just not good enough or the experience is just a bit too frustrating for the staff to use it--he won't deploy it.
One IT director stated that, "the low latency of LTE addresses the Achilles heel of cloud computing on mobile. We'll get a cottage industry of people optimizing their services to minimize total end-to-end latency and it will really help improve the experience."
More specifically than this 'general' impact, we identified five enterprise 'use cases' that particularly benefit from LTE:
• Large file transfer
• Rapid workplace set-up
• Rich machine-to-machine and remote monitoring applications
• Videoconferencing, Tele-presence and rich-media collaboration
• Remote access to business applications
Several examples from our survey indicate how these LTE use-cases are being applied today. One U.S. law school is using a mobile-enabled platform to deliver seminars remotely supported by simultaneous chat and other participation. Its technology director said, "LTE liberates our target students from the coffee shop. Distance learning could be a killer app for us."
An IT director of a North American Law Firm was "surprised at how good the video conferencing experience was on the 4G iPad. Our staff already uses videoconferencing a lot and this may well increase." Another CIO said, "I expect we'll have real-time, peer-to-peer video before long, maybe in new contexts like live video customer support embedded in mobile browsers."
LTE can be especially applicable in the construction industry, where project complexity and the need for temporary work locations mean that fast mobile applications can greatly improve productivity, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. The CEO of a building firm has found that "iPads have revolutionized our industry and 4G connectivity supports this. The demand for access to detailed documents on the move is increasing all the time."
The healthcare industry is also an enthusiastic adopter of mobile technology, using media-rich applications to implement effective mobile health initiatives that improve service delivery, cut costs, share information, and improve provider productivity. A U.S.-based senior physician we interviewed said, "We tried to use cable to deliver our remote healthcare solution, but providers wouldn't install in some of the neighborhoods we wanted to go." In the end, they used 4G because "it allows us back in the hospital to talk through very fine resolution angiograms with the healthcare visitor in the community."
In the retail sector, 4G LTE is being used to improve marketing and customer service, provide in-store connectivity, and to increase speed to market and flexibility. The innovation manager for a retail chain in Germany told us, "We can connect our stores very easily, for PoS connection or to provide internet as a marketing instrument."
There are five drivers of uptake that must be in place before businesses will subscribe to LTE en masse, including:
• LTE-enabled devices
• Widespread network coverage
• Reasonable pricing
• An awareness of LTE's performance and applicability
• Applications that capitalize on these capabilities
The final two bring us to the fact that we have seen no 4G LTE-only enterprise applications. Because of current uptake limitations, few developers will produce an LTE-only app--they'd be limiting their market hugely. However, I am confident that once LTE is widespread, this will change. We're starting to see the emergence of LTE APIs for developers to use, and these new mobile applications will work far better on 4G LTE than on the 3G networks.
Joseph Place is a Manager in ADL's Telecommunications, Information, Media and Electronics practice, and is based in London. His work focuses on top-line growth, diversification and innovation in telecoms, financial services and related industries.