Solving the wireless Net neutrality conflict

Yes, the carriers are robber barons, but unlimited data usage is equally unrealistic. Here's a plan to get better wireless data service for all

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The pros and cons of other options
Carriers could reduce their data provisioning costs by 80 percent if they moved from 3G to LTE 4G technology, estimates Openet's Hoover. That savings is not enough to fix the gap netween data usage and data revenues, but it would be a big help. Of course, it will cost billions of dollars to make the switch, so any savings are far in the future. It's the right move, but not one that solves the problem today.

Some carriers are offering or selling femtocells, which basically create mini cell towers in your building to carry your cellular calls and data over a broadband network, whether cable, fiber, or DSL. To me, it's unfair to charge people for this equipment, especially because it helps the carriers reduce their data carriage costs. Plus, many carriers still count that usage against your cellular tally, in essence double-charging you -- after all, you're paying for the broadband service that handles the local cellular communication. This is an area the FCC should be looking into.

Some carriers are also nudging people to use Wi-Fi hotspots to offload cellular traffic to the wired broadband network; many include Wi-Fi hotspot access as part of their broadand and/or cellular service plans. This makes some sense, but can run into the same billing issues as for femtocells when it comes to the data usage itself. Some of Wi-Fi's technical issues, including its weaker data security, make this an imperfect approach. Still, it should be in the mix.

Managing dual-use mobile devices
Outside the Net neutrality debate, an intriguing use of the technology that Openet offers the carriers is the ability to manage dual-use business/personal devices. More than half of all smartphones used by employees are already owned by those workers, so the era of the tightly managed corporate smartphone is over. Some organizations have legitmate needs for this model and will continue to use it, but what can everyone else do?

The simple, obvious answer is to establish basic security requirements, let employees use any compatible device, and reimburse employees a flat amount of money per month for the corporate portion of their usage. That gives users legitimate choice but insulates businesses from security and spending risks.

New management tools for BlackBerry OS 6 and Apple's iOS 4 let IT control corporate data and apps independently of consumer data and apps, so you can wipe business information without affecting the employees' personal information. I'm not sure how much more management businesses need over employees' smartphones and iPads.

But if you need more control, the same policy technology that Openet offers for plan and congestion management could be used to manage employees' devices, if carriers were to provide IT a front-end management console. As Hoover described it, whether a device is owned by the company or the user, IT could register it with the carrier and set up policies for it.

For example, the company might pay for usage during business hours and restrict app and Web access only to specified business services. I'm not sure any empoyee would accept that -- my reaction would be, "Fine, you pay the full freight and give me a locked-down device that I'll use just for business, and only duirng business hoirs. I'll use my own device for everything else."

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