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I.T. in practice: Broad band of connections causes confusion

Every Issue

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2010 84(1/2) LIJ, p.77


Practices must carefully determine their budgets, contract period and data use when choosing an appropriate mobile broadband plan.

A decade ago, there was a bewildering array of internet dial-up plans and providers to choose from, now it is broadband connections.

Thankfully, however, most internet service providers have a connection plan which is high-speed (ADSL2+), high-capacity (more than 1Gb daily in data communications) and low cost (less than $2 to $3 per day). So, the choice comes down to issues of support services and quality – word-of-mouth is a good indicator here – and add-ons, such as hosted websites, fixed IP addresses and guaranteed up-time.

Many practices have discovered that the more problematic area has been with their mobile workforce, whether they be fee earners who access the practice’s email and document resources from off-site, remote part-time support staff or simply related to the court “travellers” – those smaller notebook computers allocated to solicitors as an on-the-spot resource for information while in court.

An essential part of that mobility is a mobile broadband facility. It will be reasonably commonplace for the next generation of notebook computers to have a mobile broadband facility built in, but for now practitioners will need to plug in broadband modems or “tethered” mobile phones or PDAs to access the internet.

Mobile broadband technology operates over the normal mobile phone network and thus can be subject to congestion issues.

This is reflected more in terms of speed than whether or not it is possible to get a connection. The infrastructure requirements behind mobile broadband means that there are only a few carriers to choose from; other service providers on-sell services from the main vendors.

Plan selection comes down to two basic issues: contract period and data limits.

In the past few months, vendors have started offering pre-paid plans, which is good for situations where a specific project calls for mobile broadband access, after which it is no longer required.

Pay-as-you-go plans vary from $15 per month to over $130 per month, depending on data required and the length of time that the contract runs for. The longer the contract period, the less cost, as the broadband vendors will subsidise the cost of the special modem.

A firm’s reasonably accurate assessment of the data limit required is essential, as the costs of exceeding the data cap can be quite high.

A colleague relates an example where a sole practitioner identified a need for remote access to office emails and some web access, so a data cap of 200Mb per month was chosen.

This cap was appropriate until the practitioner’s young family member started using the resource. The following month an invoice for more than $1000 arrived.

This was an expensive way to discover that online video clips may appear small on the screen, but depending on the length and quality, they can seriously eat into the “additional usage” clause on the mobile broadband contract.

The lesson here was not one of picking the right plan, but one of reassessing the access plan in line with changed use.

It is essential to know what coverage a mobile broadband plan has when travelling interstate and overseas.

The charges are not the same as local charges and ignorance in this area can create unexpectedly high invoices from internet service providers.

Mobile broadband technology is also now starting to be used as a “failover” for office fixed internet connections.

With the absolute necessity now for almost continuous access to the internet for legal practices, a $50 per month mobile broadband connection plan is a cost-effective means of ensuring that should a practice’s main fixed internet line go down, a standby high capacity mobile service can be quickly re-tasked to channel office email, web access and remote work communications.

A question often asked relates to the fact that mobile broadband and phones share the same networks: “Why can’t I just plug my phone into my computer and use that for internet access?”.

This is known as “tethering” and the approaches by different mobile phone companies to this technology use are fragmented.

Depending on the model of the phone, the mobile phone plan chosen (with or without a data allowance) and the service provider, this can vary from unavailable to $10 per month to completely free.

This is an area where pre-contract investigation can avoid later frustration or cost.

The area of mobile broadband communications is one where practices are treading carefully and committing to shorter contract periods, as the technology and the policies of the various service providers are changing quickly.


ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm.

“TO-DO” LIST

  • Reassess existing fixed internet contracts to see whether your current provider is now offering a lower cost or higher capacity plan.
  • Identify areas within the practice which may lend themselves to mobile broadband access and assess likely data use.
  • Continually reassess existing broadband access usage for potential changes, and adjust access plans accordingly.
  • Review potential practice continuity opportunities relating to implementing failover broadband internet access.

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