Working with mobile IT is really not different to working in your office. For all typical business tasks, modern portable PC technology can do everything you would expect to do in the office. Well almost everything. Lets set some boundaries. We are talking about small scale mobile IT, not trying to run your whole office, including servers and desktop PCs with huge monitors. This is laptop and portable device based, essentially anything with moderate power needs. You will need 3 things to be successful – mobile/cell network signal, data and power . And you will need all 3.
Mobile Network Signal
An obvious point, you won’t be posting your latest piece of content to keep your marketing programme moving along if you have no signal. So what can you do to maximise your chances of having a good signal?
1. Choose the right network
If you know where you’re going to be, check network coverage there. In reality, even thought there are many more networks you can pay for mobile connections, there are really only 4 actual networks. These are Vodafone, O2, EE and Three. The rest are virtual operators, they actually use one of these 4. For example Tesco Mobile uses O2 and iD (Carphone Warehouse) uses Three. Even though there are only 4 networks to check, that can be a bit of a pain.
Luckily there are a couple of sites that can help. First, OfCOMM, the telecoms regulator, has their own coverage checker that lets you quickly see theoretical voice, 3G and 4G coverage from all four networks. Second is OpenSignal. It uses crowdsourced, real world data to give you an assessment of actual coverage. It even to ranks the networks at a given postcode. Their data set doesn’t cover every individual postcode, but in more densely populated areas, it is pretty complete.
There is no substitute to checking the signal for yourself. Once you have chosen the most likely networks form the coverage maps, get a pay-as-you-go SIM from the best 2, they are usually free to request. Top them up with the smallest amount and experiment. If you are going to be really mobile, and don’t know specifically where you are likely to be, choose the best one from the coverage map and have one or two PAYG SIMs as backup.
2. Get the right Mobile Broadband Device
Let’s be clear, stop thinking that you will just tether your mobile phone for internet access. You will need a decent Mobile Wifi router, my recommended 4G device is here. I would really recommend a 4G device (yes it can to do 3G as well) with antenna sockets. It is often hard to see whether a specific device has antenna sockets when you are buying online. If one of the networks sells one, go and ask to see one in a shop. The antenna sockets are usually under a little flap. Don’t buy the one in the shop. It is likely to be locked to that network, and that removes the flexibility of having backup PAYG SIMs. Just identify the make and model then find it unlocked (or SIM free) online.
You may have noticed I wrote antennas, in the plural, more than once. That’s not a typo. A good 4G device will have sockets for 2 antenna connections. This is for 4G, which supports dual, cross polarised antenna input to get the best signal, with highest data throughput.
3. Get a good 3G/4G antenna
Such as the one I recommend here. Without one, you will find yourself hanging the router in your window (or outside your window) to get a decent signal. This is especially the case if you are in some form of vehicle. A car, motorhome or narrowboat acts like a Faraday cage, massively reducing the network signal inside the vehicle. At best, it will reduce the network speed. At worst, you get nothing at all.
You need a mobile broadband plan that has enough data for your typical needs, and you need to guard against activities that are going to use that data up. It is quite rare to find a mobile data plan that gives you unlimited data. Those that do exist are very expensive. This is where you can have some unexpected challenges. I’ve already said that you can’t take servers with you.
So naturally, your thoughts turn to cloud services. In fact they are essential for this sort of working, especially for email. Using a hosted exchange service or your ISP’s IMAP server or Gmail, means you don’t have to have an email server and you will have email access across a range of devices, wherever you are. But be very careful in your use of other cloud -based services. Cloud storage like OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox are very useful to give you access to all your files. But I make to recommendations.
- Make a decision about the most important data and take it with you. This is particularly the case if your data is big. That could be large data sets or images for example.
- If you are generating more large amounts of data, consider turning off automatic sync features. I have forgotten to do this in the past, then dumped 500Mbyte of pictures from an SLR into my Pictures folder, and then seen a big chunk of my data plan disappear overnight, whilst I was also wondering why the connection had suddenly got so slow.
- For the same reason, be careful with cloud based backup. I love off-site cloud-based backup. I have been using on work and home systems for years. And it has got me out of a hole on several occasions. If you are just messing with documents it should be fine.
- Install a network data monitor or know where to look to get that information from your chosen OS. I like the first option because, once installed it requires no effort. On the MacBook, I use a little app called Bandwidth+. It shows you how much data is being used on which connection. You can even set monthly limits. On a PC I use tbbMeter from thinkbroadband.com.
Software like this is invaluable for finding other background apps and services which are using much more data than you think. That’s how I identified that Kaspersky Antivirus was a huge data consumer. My data usage went down dramatically after I replaced it with Bitdefender.
You need power to run all your stuff, and that isn’t necessarily limitless when you are mobile. Unless you are running an engine or generator almost continuously, there will be times when you are battery powered. Either via the battery in your devices or using an inverter powered from your vehicle battery. You need to choose low power devices, tone down your need for high power gaming machines and turn things off. Your laptop should be have a 60W power supply at most. Choose one that can last for a decent working session on it’s internal battery alone. Forget gaming laptops in this case. They often have much bigger power supplies and haven’t really been designed to work well on their batteries.
Things like your printer are likely to need mains power. When you’ve finished with it, turn it off. And while you are at it. Make sure the rest of your vehicle is as power efficient as it can be. Traditionally, a boat would have used 21W 12V incandescent bulbs. And you would have need quite a few of them on to see what you were doing. Replace them all with LED ones.
You should get ones from a specialist supplier with the additional surge protection needed for vehicle applications. You will reduce your lighting power consumption by 75% at least. A little more expensive, but if your vehicle has a fridge, update it. Most of them use the same Danfoss compressor, and the latest models are much more efficient.
If you take care of these 3 key areas, you really can make your IT mobile.