Mobile technology is changing the way people do business. It increases the ability to stay connected, work from any location and be productive on the go.
While making it easier to conduct business, mobile technology improves business processes, such as customer service or company productivity, and the likelihood of growing your business.
This guide explains how you can use mobile technologies - including smartphones, laptops and tablets - to benefit your business. This guide also describes the advantages and disadvantages of mobile technology and the different types of mobile networking devices.
Advantages and disadvantages of mobile technology
Mobile technology is indispensable in the modern workplace. Due to its versatility, it offers a range of benefits, but also comes with considerable risks to the business. It is essential to consider both advantages and disadvantages of using mobile technology in business.
What is mobile technology?
Mobile technology is exactly what the name implies - technology that is portable. Examples of mobile IT devices include:
- laptop, tablets and netbook computers
- global positioning system (GPS) devices
- wireless debit/credit card payment terminals
Portable devices utilise many different communications technologies, including:
- wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) - a type of wireless local area network technology
- bluetooth - connects mobile devices wirelessly
- data networking services for mobile phones - such as 3G, 4G and 5G wireless cellular technologies, global system for mobile communications (GSM) and general packet radio service (GPRS) data services
- dial-up services - data networking services using modems and telephone lines
- virtual private networks - secure access to a private network
These technologies enable us to network mobile devices, such as phones and laptops, to our offices or the internet while travelling.
Advantages of mobile technology
Benefits of using mobile technology for business can manifest in:
- higher efficiency and productivity of staff
- the quality and flexibility of service you offer your customers
- the ability to accept payments wirelessly
- increased ability to communicate in and out of the workplace
- greater access to modern apps and services
- improved networking capabilities
Mobile devices can link you directly into the office network while working off-site. For example, you could remotely:
- set up a new customer's account
- access existing customer records
- check prices and stock availability
- place an order online
Rapid developments in cloud technologies are boosting the use of mobile devices in business, supporting more flexible working practices and accessing services over the internet. For more information, see cloud computing.
Disadvantages of mobile technology
Main disadvantages that come with the use of mobile technology in business include:
- Costs - new technologies and devices are often costly to purchase and require ongoing maintenance and upkeep.
- Workplace distractions - as the range of technologies and devices increases, so does the potential for them to disrupt productivity and workflow in the business.
- Additional training needs - staff may need instructions and training on how to use new technology.
- Increased IT security needs - portable devices are vulnerable to security risks, especially if they contain sensitive or critical business data.
If you are using mobile devices for business, you should take precautions to ensure that the devices, and the data they can access, remain safe. See more on cyber security for business and securing your wireless systems.
Mobile telephony devices
Mobile phones and smartphones are a familiar feature of business life. The ability to make, receive and divert calls, and receive voicemail is important to business users.
What are the mobile services?
As well as telephony on the go, mobile devices also offer data transmission services through:
- global system for mobile communications (GSM) - the first global standard for mobile communication that allows mobile devices to exchange digitised and compressed data
- general packet radio service (GPRS) - an 'always-on' data service similar to broadband, but at slower transfer rates sometimes known as 2G
- 'third generation' (3G) and 'fourth generation' (4G) cellular data services, also offering always-on connection at rates comparable to broadband
- 'fifth generation' (5G) - currently under development, it denotes the next major phase of telecommunications standards
Many mobile handsets are capable of accessing these data services and include functions such as email and web access, and simplified office applications. These handsets are often known as smartphones.
Importance of mobile phones in business communication
- A mobile handset can provide a network connection for other devices, such as tablet computers and laptops using Bluetooth. However, most new laptops and tablets have wireless capability built in making this method virtually redundant.
- Smartphones such as the iPhone, Google Android handsets, Windows phone and BlackBerry phones can combine phone and a pocket-sized computer into a single device. This is a versatile business tool - handling email, offering diary functions, providing data connection for a laptop along with conventional mobile phone use.
- Near-universal availability of cellular networks and the established billing systems between operators, which allow you to use your device outside your service provider's network, make these services very useful for keeping in contact while travelling.
Disadvantages of mobile telephony services in business
- The new data services can be expensive, so it is important to get the right tariff.
- Although improving rapidly, data transmission rates are not as good as wireless local area networks using wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi). See more on wireless technology.
- Smartphones can have disadvantages - the keyboard may be small and therefore difficult to use, and their size also makes them easier to lose or damage.
Read more about choosing business phone systems.
Mobile networking devices
Mobile IT devices can use almost any wired and wireless networking technologies, as long as they are enabled to do so, either by in-built capability or via a network adapter.
What are the different types of mobile network?
Several different technologies exist that support mobile networking, including:
- using the global system for mobile communications (GSM), general packet radio service (GPRS) and third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation (4G) services offered by mobile networks
- cable connection to 'wired' local area networks (LANs) - Ethernet is the most popular wired LAN technology
- secure 'wireless LANs' within office buildings or public 'hot spots' such as internet cafes - wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) is the most popular wireless LAN technology
- Bluetooth or infra-red connection to another mobile device that offers one or more of the above connection capabilities
- extranets that can be accessed remotely, allowing mobile staff to use limited areas of your business' website and data
- use of smartphones to facilitate instant email access
Applications of mobile networking
Sometimes you don't need networking capability on the move. It might be sufficient to download and upload the information required at the start and end of the day from the office computer system.
However, real-time communication with the office can be important in delivering business benefits, such as efficient use of staff time, improved customer service and a greater range of products and services delivered. Examples include:
- making presentations to customers, and being able to download product information to their network during the visit
- quotations and interactive order processing
- checking stock levels via the office network
- interacting with colleagues while travelling - sending and receiving emails, collaborating on responses to tenders, delivering trip reports in a timely manner
Disadvantages of mobile networking
There can be issues with maintaining the security of devices and data - for example, these devices are easy to steal. It is also possible for data to be intercepted using some of these mobile technologies - such as Bluetooth and infrared. For more information, see securing your wireless systems.
There are also other considerations. Infrared and Bluetooth both have connectivity limitations. Infrared requires line of sight that will not pass through walls or other obstacles, while Bluetooth will pass through walls but only up to a useful range of 10 metres. As a result, many phones and laptops do not have these capabilities.
Bring your own device: benefits and risks
Bring your own device (BYOD) is a practice of allowing employees to use their own personal laptops, smartphones, tablets or other devices for work.
It is a growing trend among many businesses and promises many benefits. However, BYOD can present some significant challenges, not least around security and data protection. Make sure you understand both to embrace BYOD with confidence.
Advantages of BYOD
A successful, well-controlled BYOD environment can:
- offer greater flexibility and increase workforce mobility
- increase efficiency and productivity
- raise employee satisfaction
- allow greater choice in device type
- cut hardware spend and software licencing costs
- cut down on device management for business-owned devices
With proper use and safety precautions, allowing employees to use their own devices for work can be an ideal workplace policy for some businesses.
However, where BYOD is not completely understood and regulated, it can seriously threaten the security of your business data and systems.
BYOD raises a number of data protection concerns and can lead to vulnerabilities in information security. For example:
- Intentionally or accidentally, private information could leak from unprotected and unmanaged devices.
- Personal devices may lack data encryption capabilities or can be lost or stolen, increasing the risks of data loss or exposure.
- Personal devices may contain malicious apps or malware or be more vulnerable to attack from online threats. Responsibility to manage passwords, anti-virus and anti-malware protection, security patches and other safety measures, falls onto the device owner, meaning you have little to no control over safeguarding the device.
- Storage of business and personal data on the same device may be challenging. You must also consider the security of data once it is stored on the device.
- You may need to modify your current IT infrastructure and tech support to make it BYOD compliant, across the whole range of devices and applications your employees will be using.
Read the Information Commissioner's Office guidelines on BYOD and data protection.
Bring your own device policy
Before you integrate BYOD into your business, follow these three vital steps:
- conduct a thorough risk assessment - see IT risk assessment methodology
- consider your responsibility for data access, processing and storage - see how to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
- develop a clear BYOD policy - find out how in NCSC's BYOD guidance
If you're concerned about your business' security, learn how to protect your business online.
Using laptops and tablets in business
Tablet computers are devices that run cut-down versions of 'standard' office software packages and similar applications to automate tasks or access/share information. Their small size can make extended use inconvenient, but they're ideal for remote access to email, schedules and documents.
Laptop computers and netbooks give you the full functionality of a desktop PC and can handle the full range of office software.
Most modern laptops and tablets can be connected to the internet or your business' computer network via wireless technology.
Reasons to use laptops in business
Mobile networking devices such as laptops and tablets can be used for a wide variety of purposes. Key features include immediate access to data and more flexible ways of doing business. It is often possible to carry out the same tasks that you would in an office while on the move, as many mobile devices operate the same software as office PCs.
- salespeople can use laptops and handhelds to make presentations, check stock levels, make quotations, and place online orders while on customer premises
- laptops are ideal for 'hot-desking' and other types of flexible working, such as homeworking and working while travelling away from the office
- laptops and tablet computers allow users to keep in touch via email while out of the office
Disadvantages of laptops and tablets over desktops
- Tablet keyboards can be small and more difficult to use. Choosing one with a stylus can avoid this problem and can be quicker than typing or using a touchscreen.
- Laptops, netbooks and tablets present additional security issues - eg they are easy to steal or lose. When using mobile devices employees should be made aware of the need to keep devices and business information secure.
- If using public wireless fidelity networks (Wi-Fi) to access the internet, it may not always be possible to find a secure network for your mobile device. This may prevent you from accessing your business information when you need to.
As with all technology, training can be key to delivering the full benefits. Find out what else you can do to protect your business online.
Use mobile technology to improve your business
There are many things to consider when using mobile technology in your business. Here are some best practice tips to help you make the most of it.
- Audit your business to see where mobile devices and technologies may be of most use.
- Look at the potential for increased flexibility in the way you work.
- Look at any new opportunities that may be arising - for example, the introduction of 'pay as you go' mobile phones gave retailers a chance to start selling top-ups.
- Train your staff to use these devices and understand the security issues.
- Draw up an 'acceptable use' policy for your staff and make sure that they understand any limitations, eg on personal use or rules around using handheld mobile devices whilst driving. See our sample telephone usage policy.
- Include your mobile devices in any software audits and updates.
- Assign an ID number to each mobile device and keep track of who's using it.
- Ensure that data is secure in the event that a mobile device is stolen.
- Back up mobile data regularly, along with other valuable corporate data.
- Use secure technologies, for example virtual private networks (VPNs), when connecting to your network from outside locations. See securing your wireless systems.
- Use passwords to control access to mobile devices and your business network.
- Check whether mobile devices - and data - are covered by your insurance.
- Consider computer health and safety at work.
- Keep up to date with new developments - mobile technologies are growing rapidly and new opportunities to apply them in your business can come at any time. See 7 essential technology upgrades for your business.
- Allow mobile devices to have free access to all sensitive corporate data, unless strong security measures (VPNs, authentication and encryption) are in place.
- Leave mobile devices in areas where they can be seen or easily taken.
- Share or leave password information in places where unauthorised users can find it.
If you're concerned about the security of your mobile devices and technology, find out how to protect your business online.