The Origins of Mobile Connectivity Issues

Mobile computers with barcode readers (a.k.a. RF guns) are ubiquitous in warehouses and manufacturing facilities. When RF gun operators experience slowness or dropped sessions, production and delivery are interrupted. This has negative impacts on operations, IT, customer service, revenue and ultimately the value of the company. The most common go-to fix is expensive and frequently leaves the problem unresolved, which compounds business losses. 

To help alleviate this problem, we reviewed the only database available today that directly links complaints of “connectivity issues” to the validated root causes[1]. The purpose of the analysis is to help operations managers, IT teams and managed service providers understand which approaches to troubleshooting and resolving problems yield results quickly, and which do not.

Slowness, drops, and blank screens originate from three general sources in the communication between host applications and mobile devices.

  1. Application: This term refers to the host application. Documented applications in this data review include: SAP EWM, Oracle MSC, Manhattan, Blue Yonder and a number of custom applications for manufacturing.
  2. Network: This refers to any wired or wireless network in the communication path including WLAN, WAN, Wifi, and broadband wireless.
  3. Mobile device hardware and software: The hardware and software components on the mobile computers including most form factors and operating systems such as Android, Windows and iOS. Software refers to browsers, Telnet emulators, and customer client software.

In 2019 Connect Inc analyzed the database of mobile worker inputs tied directly to the unique root cause and found roughly a third (36%) were attributed to network problems. The majority were found to be caused by a combination of mobile device hardware and software problems.

By 2023, only 17% of mobile user complaints were found to be due to network problems. Over 80% of spinning wheels, mobile drops, blank screens and other mysterious behaviors captured and tracked were not the direct result of wired or wireless network communication failures.

From a probability standpoint, it is impossible to justify the industry-standard practice of initiating a wireless site survey to address mobile worker complaints. Although, it is understandable. Most managers want to act quickly and without going through a process for additional budget or IT resources. Another reason wireless analysis is a common approach is that most are completed without hardware or software to install into the IT infrastructure. As more than one wireless engineer has remarked, “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and that is definitely true when it comes to blaming the wireless.”

Unfortunately, this common practice turns out to be an expensive gamble when all is said and done. An analysis is typically just the first step and results typically lead to additional service and/or hardware purchase recommendations. Table 1 is a breakdown of the steps and associated costs to address mobile user complaints with a wireless-first approach.

Typical process of network review and remedy of mobile user complaints at a medium-sized warehouse.Cost
Site visit by one internal IT subject matter expert for 2 days, travel expense only.$               1,600
Vendor onsite visit for wireless analysis (average cost for basic analysis)$               7,000
Cost of hardware/software and services for typical adjustment.$             27,000 – 150,000
Total$             35,600 – 185,600
Table 1

Is there a better way? Yes. A technology-based process that tracks the mobile worker’s experience with their mobile device, associated networks and the back-end application. The key is to record the delay or drop as it happens, followed by immediate data-driven triage that guides resolution. Fact-based decisions make sure budget is allocated to the right place, in the first place.

To learn from a company that has improved outcomes for its mobile workforce, IT teams and customers with automatic problem capture and triage, review an in-depth study by Zebra Technologies.

[1] Connect Inc provides software driven IT services, called Mobile Systems Intelligence (MSI), to enterprise companies with manufacturing and distribution and logistics operations. Connect’s unique software captures and analyzes live mobile user experience of delays and disconnects to find root cause. This study reviewed over 10,000 complaints reported to MSI and the associated confirmed root causes from live customer environments over a period of 5 years. Connect Inc is also called ConnectRF.

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