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 (apps) through:

  • Cellular networks: A radio network using distributed cell towers that enables 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. (1)
  • 4G networking: The cellular service standard for mobile technology. It uses packet switching technology, which breaks data into parts or packets for transmission and reassembles the information at the destination. 4G is reported to be 10 times faster than 3G — and 5G faster still. The reason is high-speed packet transmission that supports bursts of traffic or information to achieve higher transmission (downloading) speeds and capacity. The “G” stands for generation. (2)
  • WiFi: Similar to cellular networks, WiFi — wireless fidelity — uses radio waves to connect devices to the internet through localized routers called hotspots. They are like cell towers for internet access, but 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. (3)
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard 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. (4)

Mobile technology is pervasive and growing, IBM® reports “More people today have access to mobile devices than banking services. In fact, the number of mobile devices (7.9 billion) exceeds the world’s population (7.35 billion.) Mobile, for most of the populace, has become essential to everyday life. And it has become indispensable in the way we do business.

Return on mobile

Return on mobile: capturing the value beneath the surface

While the benefits of mobile technologies are indisputable, organizations still struggle with capturing its full value.

Infographic: Return on mobile

See why organizations are tripling their mobile investment.

Why is mobile technology important?

Mobile technology is important because it accelerates digital transformation. An imperative for CIOs, digital transformation is the use of digital technology to fundamentally change how a business operates and delivers value to customers.

Correspondingly, IBM sees mobile technology as an untapped resource for potential ROI: “The return on investment (ROI) for mobile currently accounts for only a fraction of what is possible. Like an iceberg — the small, visible tip hiding a veritable mountain of ice below the waterline — mobile has as its potential untold millions of dollars of untapped value.”

Here are a few examples of how mobile technology can enable digital transformation and deliver value to customers and businesses:

  • Interacting with customers: In healthcare, 90 percent of organizations in a recent survey said they had implemented or would soon implement a mobile device initiative. Devices are used for everything from administrative tasks to care provider functions — accessing patient data for example — but they also improve the quality of patient interaction. Ninety-six percent of healthcare IT decision-makers said that implementing a mobile device initiative produced a positive impact on patient satisfaction.
  • Developing and delivering products and services: An insurer in Canada, where severe weather is a leading cause of claims, uses a mobile app to alert clients when property-damaging weather might strike. It’s an innovative service that can help reduce claims and boost profitability, while helping customers protect their property.
  • Managing physical, human and digital capital: Forty percent of field service workers are mobile. Arming them with mobile technology not only empowers them as employees but improves the operational efficiency of the assets they maintain. It also enables companies with field service needs to exploit the Internet of Things (IoT) and extend core IT investments.

Complete these 10 quick questions to gain a deeper understanding of where your company stands with mobile initiatives and how you compare.

Key capabilities of effective mobile technology

To make mobile technology an effective contributor to digital transformation, organizations are looking at the following capabilities and considerations:

Use existing apps: One hundred and ninety-seven billion mobile apps were downloaded in 2017. Many are, or can be modified or combined, for business application. Using existing apps accelerates time-to-value and improves cost efficiency by taking advantage of domain and industry expertise built into the app.

Integrate and scale: IDC points out: “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 to the device is critical to the effectiveness of mobile technology, whether the logic and data are on-premises, on the cloud or in hybrid configurations.

Scalability is important, too. Creating point mobile solutions without considering how to scale across an enterprise can be costly in terms of development, management and maintenance. A Forrester economic impact study for IBM Mobile at Scale found that development costs could be cut by US$300,000.

Remember the user: IBM reports that “more than 27 percent of global online transactions are conducted through mobile devices.” And yet “One third of companies do not use mobile apps to enhance customer experiences.” Mobile marketing and mobile workforce technologies present critical opportunities to transform how a business or brand is perceived across customers, employees and business partners.

Manage and secure: Enterprise mobility management (EMM) according to Gartner is  “the ‘glue’ that connects mobile devices to their enterprise infrastructure.” As mobile technology pervades society and businesses, organizations look to EMM capabilities to configure devices and apps; track device usage and inventories; control and protect data; and support and troubleshoot issues.

A key consideration for EMM is BYOD — bring your own device. BYOD is an IT policy where employees are allowed or encouraged to use their personal mobile devices to access enterprise 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 is a must for any digital endeavor. Seventy-six percent of CIOs say it is the top concern. With an estimated 80 billion devices coming online by 2025, IT security professionals face a daunting mobile security battle in terms of volume, complexity and the granularity of security issues. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a key weapon. Unified endpoint management (UEM) solutions are incorporating AI technologies to discern security anomalies in vast amounts of data and complex systems. They can quickly surface and remediate malware incidents, for example, or recommend actions to meet regulatory requirements from a centralized dashboard.

Build better apps. In the cloud. Mobile app developers are under pressure to build and deploy applications that deliver business value. The cloud offers an effective platform to develop, test and manage applications with greater speed, quality and cost efficiency.

Developers can use application programming interface (API) services to connect apps to back-end data and focus on front-end functions and business needs. They can readily add authentication to apps to bolster security. The platform also gives them access to AI and cognitive services like natural language processing and advanced analytics. These services can deliver insights to devices and users to automate routine tasks and improve business decisions.

IDC: The urgent need for hybrid integration

“Just as many organizations have a cloud-first strategy for systems of record, many organizations also have a mobile-first strategy in place for systems of engagement with customers, employees and partners.”

Case studies

Coppell County Schools

A Texas school-district with 16 schools, 12,300 students and 750 educators works with Apple and IBM to build an iOS tablet app to measure student growth and improve educational engagement.


Spanish insurance provider, Asepeyo, builds apps for Apple iOS and Google Android using one code base. The app makes it easier to administrate insurance and is part of Adebayo’s digital transformation to gain a competitive advantage.

Migros Group

Swiss supermarket retailer Migros transformed how it managed on-site promotions. A mobile app designed for non-technical personnel and managers streamlines knowledge and processes to boost promotion quality, efficiency and productivity.

Mobile technology resources

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IBM iX focuses on the intersection of strategy, creativity and technology to help organizations digitally reinvent their businesses.