Off the Shelf: The Promise - and Challenge - of BYOD

BTR_Feature_Art_BYOD_12-9-13 The cable industry has a flair for the dramatic: The intention to introduce impressive technology is announced and, over a few years, widely discussed, tested in the lab and then in the field. It is rolled out commercially and becomes a point of pride among operators and their vendors. The DOCSIS stepladder to success is one example. Another, CCAP, will be one of the big stories of 2014.

In some cases, however, changes that are just as important hide in plain sight.

The use of non-corporate telecommunications devices is one such trend. Increasingly, workers in all industries and in all levels - from the loading dock to the C-level suites - are using their privately-owned consumer devices (iPads, smartphones, etc.), not just those provided by their employers. No segment of the workforce is more impacted by this trend than field forces, which succeed or fail largely based on the quality of their communications tools. "The No. 1 trend [in field force management] by far is the consumerization of devices," said Christian Schenk, the senior vice president of business development for XRS. "What used to be rugged, purpose-built products - what the FedEx guy walked in with - have been replaced with iPads and Android devices."

While the general explosion in mobile operating systems - with Apple and Android joining and subsequently overtaking Microsoft and BlackBerry - generally is used interchangeably with "bring your own device" (BYOD), the two actually are different. Some companies elect to provide their employees with company-owned devices. The capex is higher, of course, but a tremendous number of headaches can be avoided. The key is that consumer electronics has taken over: Less and less purpose-built equipment is being carried by a technician into a home or found in the truck.

The distinction between company- and employee-owned equipment is important, because the approach in which cable operators or contractors have employees use their own devices introduces many questions and issues that are absent if the operator owns the devices (an approach known as “corporate-liable). For instance, if a device goes missing that has both the technician’s personal information and corporate data, a clear understanding of when the machine may be "wiped" of all data must exist.

Similar issues center on the fate of the corporate data on the device when an employee leaves the company, especially when the parting is acrimonious. There are a number of approaches to how billing is handled, such as providing workers with a stipend. Finally, companies employing BYOD approaches need to have a plan in place for repairing broken devices. This is quite a problem: A corporate-liable shop focuses on fewer devices and can have effective plans in place to repair or replace damaged devices. BYOD fails on both counts: Companies can't replace devices that they don't own and can't as effectively manage the repair process.

To some extent, these problems are receding. For instance, solutions are emerging in which different levels of security control are available for the personal and professional storage areas of a device. Also, operators are moving more of the storage to the cloud, which reduces the amount of valuable data likely to be stored on a device at a given moment. Billing issues have given rise to a new discipline, Telecom Expense Management (TEM). TEM addresses the issue of managing how to handle mobile bills that are split between consumer and corporate expenses. TEM goes further in helping organizations using BYOD recoup at least some savings they may lose in not having as easy access to corporate data plans.

Jeff Brooks, ARRIS’ (NASDAQ: ARRS) vice president of product management assurance software solutions, said one of the great advantages of BYOD is that it means that devices being used are familiar to and favored by the employees. They therefore will be used more and with greater skill than those dictated by the organization.

Modern devices, he said, have a tremendous amount of features and tools into which operators can tap. Thus, the goal of an organization using a BYOD strategy for its fleets is to understand not only the devices and operator systems, but the services and applications that the devices offer. "Once you ... make the interface easy to use, people will be willing to carry it with them, and you can look at additional automation," Brooks said.

BYOD has been a growing phenomenon in the corporate world for about five years. The most recent advance - one that will make BYOD an even more potent tool for operators - is the advent of HTML5. The markup language enables applications to run in devices' browsers and therefore eliminates the need choose between iOS, Android or other native languages.

The bottom line is that HTML5 makes support of a wide range of devices more feasible, Brooks said. In the days before HTML5, a company needed to either limit the organization to one operating system - and thereby truncate the promise of BYOD - or prepare a version of desired app for each platform. That preparation is intense. Not only does the app have to be written, but it has to tested for security, stability and to ensure that it can navigate firewalls and other network obstacles. "You can absolutely do that - and people were - but there is extra work compared to HTML5," Brooks said.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at

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