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The Business Applications of Mobile Broadband

By SooJi Min for America's Backbone Weekly

Broadband onsite at the workplace is essential for any business today?including for mobile and temporary locations such as pop up stores, outdoor events and food trucks. Here are some options for getting connected to broadband when you're at a temporary or mobile site.

Go cellular
Mobile broadband, an essential feature of a 3G or 4G smartphone, lets businesses connect to anything and everything. "Even if just it's social media or keeping in touch with email, mobile broadband is always what you go back to," says Arlington, MA-based Berge Ayvazian, Senior Analyst and Consultant at Wireless 20/20, an independent market research and consultancy focused solely on the emerging broadband wireless market.

Individual phones and tablets today can be set up as points of sale to accept credit card payments. They can read bar codes and scan event tickets. They can also function as a personal hotspot. "Most phones can do more than one thing at once," says Ayvazian.

Be mindful of your cellular data usage. Depending on your plain, "You can run up a big bill if you use up a lot of data," says Ayvazian. "Get an unlimited data plan with no cap." Some providers may slow down your data when close to your limit while others will cut off access. "Plan your budget around how much you're willing to spend and how much data you will use," says Ayvazian. "Some providers will charge high rates to buy more data once you've established a cap."

Go Wireless
If you need your phone to make calls or need a laptop online, you'll need Wi-Fi. You could find a pre-existing Wi-Fi hotspot, or use a connector through a carrier. Open Wi-Fi hotspots, however, are usually unstable and less secure than a closed network.

Another option is to gain access to a wired broadband line. "Extending the wireline broadband by Wi-Fi will provide similar bandwidth as the wireline connection coming into the facility, says Chetan Sharma, CEO, Chetan Sharma Consulting, an Issaquah-WA-based management and strategy firm focused on mobile technology and an advisor to Fortune 100 firms worldwide. "It will require a Wi-Fi router and depending on the layout, a Wi-Fi extender to provide better coverage."

Go both ways
In the case of a remote business location, however, connecting to broadband may prove more difficult. "You don't automatically have Internet or broadband unless you're next to a building and then you may not even have AC power," says Ayvazian. "Carriers have lots of devices that allow users to connect to broadband Internet on the fly."

Most of these wireless routers are small portable hotspots commonly referred to as MiFi. "It's connected on one side to the 4G carrier and the other gives Internet through Wi-Fi. It runs on a battery and once connected, functions as a miniature access point. Others can connect to it too. You can put a password in front and other security but in and of itself, it is an open network."

Mobile broadband routers from companies such as Cradlepoint offer external LTE mobile broadband with Wi-Fi antennae for reliable connections in locations far removed from everyday infrastructure?whether a construction site, stall at a state fair, or in a food truck. With a mobile broadband router you can enable Point Of Sale, inventory system updates, enable time card date transfers to headquarters, and order materials.

Choosing the best broadband access option for your business will depend on several factors, including location, budget and security. But an absence of power sources or fixed line internet connectivity is no longer a barrier to taking your business to wherever it needs to be.

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SooJi Min is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive based in Ann Arbor, MI. She has written on small business topics for Crain?s, Imagination Publishing and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

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