While Asian and European cell phone users have enjoyed the benefits of third-generation (“3G”) networks for some time -- specifically, wireless speeds that rival broadband Internet connections in the home -- this mobile technology is now ready for business throughout North America.

Your carrier might also refer to this third-generation network as "High-Speed Downlink Packet Access” (HSDPA) or an increasingly popular example of “3G” technology. If you recall, second generation wireless -- or “2G” -- marked the evolution from analog handsets to digital phones and data services.

The consumer benefits of “3G” are clear -- downloading songs in mere seconds, surfing the Internet at fast speeds, or streaming live television and satellite radio broadcasts. But how does this next-generation wireless protocol help your small or mid-sized business?

Business benefits of 3G

This next-generation wireless technology has a host of potential applications for business users, from delivering faster data speeds to allowing road warriors to more easily access the Internet to downloading larger files.

“3G is all about speed, speed, and more speed,” says Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at Jupiter Research, the New York-based IT research firm. “Depending on the business applications, you’ll see a number of benefits, especially for those who spend time away from the office.”

For example, Gartenberg says, if you travel frequently with a laptop, you need not try and find a Wi-Fi hotspot, such as a café or airport lounge, in order to access the Internet at high-speeds. “Instead, you can insert a 3G modem card or tether your 3G phone to your laptop and access the Internet from virtually anywhere,” explains Gartenberg. “In other words, a small-to-mid-sized business can get things done that much faster with 3G, such as downloading large files or surfing complex web pages….. It can be an absolute godsend for the business user.”

“There’s no doubt that 3G represents the next big thing in mobility” confirms Carmi Levy, senior vice president of strategic consulting at AR Communications, a Toronto-based marketing communications firm. “Just as broadband Internet access took over from conventional dial-up and radically changed the way businesses used the Internet from conventional desktop and laptop computers, 3G holds the same promise for mobile users.”

Some key services that will benefit from wider adoption of 3G, believes Levy, include the following:

  • real-time content collaboration
  • video and audio conferencing
  • and mobile applications that focus on CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).

Speaking of video conferencing, Canada’s Roger Wireless network is the first in North America to offer face-to-face video calling between compatible “3G” cell phones. Think of it as a webcam you carry in your pocket.

Levy also believes location awareness applications can benefit from “3G” bandwidth. “Retailers, for example, can deploy applications that recognize potential consumers’ presence within a given geographic area – for example, as they walk past a store – and deliver highly personalized multimedia marketing content to entice them into the store,” explains Levy.

Disadvantages of 3G

Experts caution, however, that "3G" is still in its early days, and much of the story remains to be told.

The cost to upgrade your company’s phones and pay for a data plan to take advantage of “3G” services might be a deterrent for some small and mid-sized businesses that are watching the bottom line. “While prices are coming down all the time, the cost to upgrade is an obvious shortcoming,” says Gartenberg. “That said, it’s hard to put a price on receiving a critical e-mail or document on your phone quickly.”

Limited bandwidth and high usage costs for data-centric services are also dampening adoption rates, says Levy “And it’s easy to conclude that more businesses would be implementing mobile capability more aggressively if pricing were more competitive and if offerings were more clearly explained and marketed.”

Another penalty you pay is in battery life, says Gartenberg, as using these high-speed data services can eat away at a handset’s power fairly quickly.