What is mobile technology?

Mobile technology is technology that goes where the user goes. It consists of portable two-way communications devices, computing devices and the networking technology that connects them.

Currently, mobile technology is typified by internet-enabled devices like smartphones, tablets and watches. These are the latest in a progression that includes two-way pagers, notebook computers, mobile telephones (flip phones), GPS-navigation devices and more.

The communications networks that connect these devices are loosely termed wireless technologies. They enable mobile devices to share voice, data and applications (mobile apps).

Mobile technology is pervasive and growing. The number of smartphone users has climbed beyond 3 billion¹ and the global mobile workforce is expected to reach 1.87 billion by 2022.²

Types of mobile networks

Cellular Networks icon

Cellular networks

Radio networks using distributed cell towers that enable mobile devices (cell phones) to switch frequencies automatically and communicate without interruption across large geographic areas. The same basic switching capability enables cellular networks to accommodate many users across a limited number of radio frequencies.³

4G networking icon

4G networking

The current cellular service standard for most wireless communication. It uses packet switching technology, which organizes data into parts or packets for transmission and reassembles the information at the destination. 4G – “G” for generation —  is reported to be 10x faster than 3G — and 5G, faster still, is coming. 5G uses a set of aggregated frequency bands to unlock bandwidth and is approximately 20x faster than 4G.

Wifi icon

WiFi

Radio waves that connect devices to the internet through localized routers called hotspots. Short for wireless fidelity, WiFi networks are like cell towers for internet access, but they don’t automatically pass service without establishing a WiFi connection. Most mobile devices allow for automatic switching between Wi-Fi and cellular networks depending upon availability and user preference.⁴

Bluetooth

Bluetooth

A telecommunications industry specification for connecting devices over short distances using short-wavelength radio waves. Bluetooth enables users to quickly connect or pair devices such as headsets, speakers, phones and other devices.⁵

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular wireless technology. Like 4G, it uses frequencies that are part of the radio spectrum, but 5G uses very high frequencies that offer more bandwidth. This means more data delivered at higher speeds to more devices. Imagine video streaming to a smartphone. According to IBM, 5G will “improve that experience by making it 10x better not just for one individual, but for anyone streaming a video at the same time.”


Mobile technology case studies

Increase productivity

Using its Road Day mobile app to upload claims information from the field, Amica Mutual Insurance Company achieved 25 to 50 percent estimated productivity gains for its workflow processes. The app enables adjusters to collaborate closely with customers in the field, improving the accuracy of claims and helping customers feel more involved.

Capitalize on new business models

Frogs are disappearing in Australia — 4 of the 240 known species. To protect them, scientists needed a faster data-gathering model. Part of a crowd-sourcing approach, the FrogID app enables Australians to make audio recordings of frogs’ unique calls and upload them to an online database. The app also uses GPS coordinates to map frog populations.

Create the ideal shopping scenario

City Furniture uses mobile technology to create an almost ideal shopping experience.  Customers can combine online research with the ability to physically touch items and interact with sales personnel. The mobile app used by sales associates on their tablets accesses real-time data, processes payments and schedules deliveries — all without leaving the customer’s side.

Enhance customer experiences

Japan Airlines (JAL) wanted to bring calm to the harried process of airport travel. It created an app for Apple Watch that delivers a boarding pass with a QR code, bypassing the need to handle a phone or juggle documents. Tapping notifications gives passengers ongoing alerts about flight status, boarding gate details and gate changes.

Key capabilities of effective mobile technology

Scalability: Creating point solutions that don’t scale across an enterprise can be costly in terms of development, management and maintenance. Apps need to be conceived holistically with consideration for lines of business, processes and technical environments.

 

Integration: IDC has pointed out (PDF, 611KB) that “…applications offered on mobile phones and tablets have a separation between the mobile app and back-end business logic and data services.” Being able to connect logic and data services to the app is critical, whether the logic and data are on premises, on the cloud or in hybrid configurations.

 

Reuse: Over 105 billion mobile apps were downloaded in 2018.⁶ Many are, or can be modified or combined, for business applications. Using existing apps accelerates time-to-value and improves cost efficiency by taking advantage of domain and industry expertise built into the app.

 

Cloud-based development: The cloud offers an efficient platform to develop, test and manage applications. Developers can use application programming interfaces (API) to connect apps to back-end data and focus on front-end functions. They can add authentication to bolster security, and access artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive services.

 

Mobility management: As mobile technology is deployed, organizations look to enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions to configure devices and apps; track device usage and inventories; control and protect data; and support and troubleshoot issues.

 

BYOD: Bring your own device (BYOD) is an IT policy that allows employees to use personal devices to access data and systems. Effectively adopted, BYOD can improve productivity, increase employee satisfaction and save money. At the same time, it presents security and device management questions that need to be addressed.

 

Security: The mobile security battle is daunting in terms of volume and complexity. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a key weapon to discern security anomalies in vast amounts of data. It can help surface and remediate malware incidents or recommend actions to meet regulatory requirements from a central dashboard.

 

Edge computing: One of the key advantages of 5G is that it can bring applications closer to their data sources or edge servers. Proximity to data at its source can deliver network benefits such as improved response times and better bandwidth availability. From a business perspective, edge computing offers the opportunity to perform more comprehensive data analysis and gain deeper insights faster.

Mobile technology resources

What consumers expect from 5G entertainment

See what’s exciting consumers about 5G technology — from mobile video streaming to immersive media experiences to eSports and beyond.

IBM Mobile Computing blog

Part of the IBM® THINK® blog, the mobile computing category offers new and archived content for insights into mobile technology.

Mobile app developer center

IBM Developer offers mobile app development resources, technology, code, starter kits and more.