For coffee shops, hotels, and just about any business that wants an added bonus to draw in customers, the promise of free WiFi has become a selling point. But recently, Detroit News reported on how unlimited mobile data plans could be damning for WiFi. According to Report Linker, a new trend is rising in homes: 40% of people are using their smartphone’s cellular connection, instead of a cable broadband connection, to access internet.
This is sparked by unlimited data plans, and the fact that you can turn your phone into a wireless hotspot. Through the hotspot, you can access internet, including streaming video and music, on a tablet, laptop, or desktop. This could spread further to businesses, where customers could use their mobile data to enable remote work at the coffee shop. In other words, because of unlimited cell data, WiFi isn’t anything special, it’s not a selling point for your business anymore.
Why WiFi can still offer an advantage to businesses
Oftentimes, it’s not the little perks you offer to customers that make the difference. It’s the core of your business, your employees, and the quality of your primary offering that matter. A coffee shop that relies on its location and free WiFi to attract customers won’t last long in the future, because when it comes down to it, the quality of the coffee and the service are most important.
In terms of employees who make or break a business based on the quality of their work, communication is the difference. Villanova University reports that “86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.” Shoddy communication is also a retention issue for 20-30% of organizations.
But now, remote work, also known as telecommuting, is fast becoming a standard. The amount of people who telecommute could easily hit 50% by 2020, up from 37% in 2015. If managers and on-site employees don’t maintain a steady flow of communication with remote workers, this trend could see the rising pool of remote workers become more and more disengaged.
But are cellphone networks reliable enough to facilitate the necessary level of communication with remote workers? What about when they’re on a plane or in an area with no service? CNet points out that “WiFi calling is especially useful when you’re in an area with weak carrier coverage. For example, when you’re traveling to the residential countryside, or you’re in a building with spotty reception.” WiFi calling is a feature built-in to many smartphones. As long as there’s a WiFi connection, and your carrier has enabled WiFi calling, you can teleconference without even having a data plan.
This sets up a scenario in which a remote worker would always be within reach through a combination of cellular coverage and WiFi coverage. For example, when an employee is on a long-distance business trip, traveling via airplane, T-Mobile offers free inflight texting as part of its WiFi calling package. And if the employee is on international business, they could use WiFi calling for free from the hotel or cafe, even if their smartphone plan doesn’t include global coverage. WiFi calling doesn’t require a separate app, uses the contacts already on your phone, and doesn’t require the person on the receiving end to install an app either. You can set up your phone to either do WiFi calling as a default, or switch to it when there’s no cell coverage available.
Additionally, businesses can set up a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) network. VoIP allows you to make and receive calls directly through your office WiFi, no separate phone plan or landline required. Since internet is absolutely essential for modern business, and you’re already going to get it anyhow, VoIP could save you a ton of money on phone bills.
But be aware of cybercrime
Although conducting business through a WiFi connection does have its appeal, there’s a problem. Particularly for small businesses increasingly taking advantage of the web and the cloud, cybercrime is becoming an increasing threat.
In 2015, roughly 50% of cyberattacks worldwide involved small businesses. While larger companies invest a lot in cybersecurity, small businesses tend to invest less, including a lack of investment in employee training. Hackers can target multiple small businesses at once, cracking passwords through malware and other methods, and infesting computers with ransomware.
To protect against cyberattacks, experts recommend securing, encrypting and hiding WiFi networks. Make sure remote employees have security software on their company phones and laptops, and that they update apps regularly. Use firewalls for internet connections, update computers and run antivirus scans afterwards. Make sure to use updated security software to clean computers regularly, and update web browsers and operating systems.
Any advantage you gain from using WiFi for your business will quickly disappear with a cyberattack. But if you’re able to prioritize security, WiFi can help you prioritize communication and ensure productivity and employee engagement.
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