Earlier this week T-Mobile crashed, taking about two million of its customers down with it. Some lost voice, some data, some lost both services. It took until the wee hours of the next morning for the carrier to get everyone back on line.
A few weeks ago the same carrier lost the cloud-based data for its Sidekick handheld devices. Several months ago, RIM lost BlackBerry connectivity several months after losing it for the first time, and promising it would never happen again.
More localized wireless outages are commonplace. You may never know that a cell site has gone down; you may just know that for some reason, your wireless coverage in an area is a lot worse than usual. I won't even go into the routine of dropped calls, static, crosstalk and delayed messages. Those problems happen to everyone, and we've come to accept the limitations of wireless voice and data service as part of the price of convenience.
Unfortunately, the price of convenience may be too high when your enterprise depends on 24 x 7 communications. But if your business depends on wireless access, you can't avoid outages and compromises to some extent. But that doesn't mean you have to let them put you out of business. Instead, you can protect yourself by spreading your risk, anticipating problems, and not being trapped into a single point of failure. Here are some ideas:
- Don't put all of your wireless access with the same company. You don't want to have your business out of touch just because your carrier has a problem. So sign agreements with more than one carrier. Despite their likely push for an exclusive deal, they'll still take your business without one.
- Don't limit yourself to a single platform. If the BlackBerry servers tank again, you don't want your business to go down with them. Sure, it's a little more trouble to split up your devices between BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Palm, but at least the same outage (or the same malware) won't get them all.
- Enhance your flexibility. This means you need to be able to change carriers for your employees when it suits your business needs, not the marketing needs of a wireless carrier. Fortunately, if you're buying enough phones and other wireless devices, the carrier that wants your business will negotiate things like termination fees so that they're not a problem. Even Verizon (which has just started doubling its termination fee, according to its dealers) wants your business worse than it wants a termination fee.
- Provide support to a range of specific devices, but let everyone else provide their own devices if they meet your requirements for being part of your enterprise. Sure, you're supporting BlackBerries with a couple of different carriers, and also some Windows Mobile devices. But if you get users with the occasional Palm Pre or iPhone, there's no reason to exclude them from the network. Just make sure they're set up to meet your security and compliance standards for that user.
- Don't depend on wireless devices for everything. Unless you're completely convinced that your wireless device and the service it connects to are totally secure, or that a loss of data doesn't matter to you, there's still a need for good old wired POTS (plain old telephone service) phones. Your remote offices and field staff need those unless their ability to communicate isn't important to your company.
There are as many ways to have problems with wireless communications as there are wireless devices. You'll never avoid all of them. But it is possible to at least make sure that everybody in your company doesn't fall victim to the same problem at the same time. Minimizing the risk by eliminating a single point of failure may be more complicated, but it'll help you stay in business.