BYOD: What’s it putting on YOUR network?

Free open WiFi at Stagecoach Trails RV park, Julian CATwo recent reports from the UK suggest that BYOD is a lot more than a nightmare for security admins: increasingly, it will be a network issue too. Allowing users to connect their own mobile devices at work has the potential to dramatically change the mix of traffic on the company network — and by extension, on the company WAN.

The first of those reports (PDF) came from Ofcom, the UK’s official regulator for the telecoms industry, and highlighted just how much data people are now pulling down via mobile devices. Ofcom got all the UK’s mobile network operators to pool their figures for June 2012 and came up with a total of 20 Petabytes of data transferred. Not 20 PB a year — that’s 20 PB for a single month.

Elsewhere in the report, Ofcom cites totals for the numbers of connected smartphones, 3G-enabled tablets, and mobile broadband dongles. There are no figures yet for 2012, but extrapolating from earlier years suggests that that 20 PB was shared between 45 million to 50 million devices — that’s pretty much one device each for every Brit over the age of 15, by the way — which means around 400MB a month, per device.

But as a corporate network admin, that’s not your problem, is it? After all, it is all on the cellular networks, and they can take care of their own backhaul. Well, not quite. There are two other factors to bear in mind: the role of WiFi and the gross unevenness of usage.

The other report that came out at around the same time as Ofcom’s was from Nielsen, the market research company probably best known for its work on tracking TV and advert consumption. Nielsen’s UK office has a rather interesting project going where it has persuaded 1500 volunteers to install a data-metering app on their Android smartphones.  One of the company’s first findings is that cellular data represents just 22 percent of these smartphones’ mobile Internet usage.

Yes, the remaining 78 percent of mobile data is sucked down over WiFi. Much of that is at home, but even during office hours more data is traveling over WiFi than over 3G. If these figures also hold true for non-Android phones — and it is entirely possible that iPhones may consume even more data than Android phones, not less — that’s well over a Gigabyte of WiFi per smartphone, per month.

A Gigabyte of WiFi is not a lot in office network terms, but it gets more interesting when you discover just how non-linear the smartphone usage curve is. Ofcom reports that only 10 percent of customers used more than half of their cellular data allowance. Indeed, mobile data usage seems to follow a curve resembling the classic long tail of popularity, with a small number consuming huge amounts, and a much larger number consuming next to nothing.

These results imply that while the majority of users tick over on an average of perhaps 200 MB a month, the top 10 percent of users are sharing 10 PB, which is about 2 GB each, per month. Add the 78 percent for WiFi, and we are looking at an average of 10 GB a month for each power user.

What is that data carrying? Neither of these reports went into that, but we can make educated guesses: video streaming, gaming, ever-fatter email attachments, and poorly-coded, bandwidth-greedy webpages would all feature high on my list.

Of course, if the BYOD users in your remote offices are in the low-user category you should be fine, but given that they are already keen enough to want to use their personal gadgets for (or at) work, how likely is that?

The question then becomes: are you managing your network traffic, and if you are, are you managing the right network traffic? Do you have monitoring in place to keep you aware of all the new traffic types, and to help you do bandwidth-shaping as needed?

This is yet another advantage of using WAN optimizers, incidentally — not only do you get visibility into what’s running over the WAN, but you can then manage it, too. If nothing else, you will be able to see just how much of your WAN is taken up by people watching YouTube and streamed TV on their smartphones. Happy hunting!

Image credit: °Florian (flickr)

About the author
Bryan Betts
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    SSG uses a passcode at the application layer. Client can’t authenticate unless they know the passcode. SSG is implemented in public places such as hotels where the client pays for the password allowing access to the network.