The network-technology landscape is awash with hardware, software and architecture concepts aimed at small and mid-sized businesses. But which trends really speak to SMBs for 2016? We looked into what the next January-to-December timeframe has in store for smaller shops.
A better Wi-Fi hotspot
The Wi-Fi router market is shifting — and SMBs are poised to benefit. Consider Channel e2e’s recent post, which outlines various efforts to improve router functionality. One example: Google’s OnHub. It’s designed to prioritize selected network devices to ensure the chosen equipment gets the best data rates. Google also says the router communicates in practically every version of 802.11, as well as Bluetooth Smart Ready, Weave and 802.15.4. OnHub may have started as a consumer-focused product, but it seems practical for small offices, too (workers need advanced wireless connectivity, but may lack deep network-technology expertise).
Web beacon illumination
Watch as storefront SMBs grapple with the potential pluses and pitfalls associated with mobile web beacons. The technology lets a business send promotional messages to individuals’ phones when they’re near one of the company’s physical locations. In a 2016 prediction list on Business News Daily, Christine Rochelle of New Jersey-based communications agency lotus823 says companies could strike marketing gold with this technology. But that goldmine is also a perilous worksite. Bear in mind that consumers are wary and weary of advertising. Marketing Week recently reported on a study from research firm fast.MAP indicating that shoppers are less likely to take advantage of promotions than they were even two or three years ago. And earlier this year, expertIP’s financial-services blog team noted the risks of sending unwanted mobile messages to customers: those clients may be annoyed. SMBs will have to tread carefully with mobile web beacons to get their money’s worth — and to avoid irritating their clientele.
The rise of cloud communications
The rising tide of cloud-based communications will look more like a real wave of adoption next year. According to PCMag, “cloud-based collaboration will continue to erode device-, location- and platform-based barriers to enterprise and SMB communication.” Massachusetts-based tech-research firm SMB Group predicts that in 2016, more SMBs will use cloud services than on-premise equipment for collaboration. In a post for Inc., Dave Kerpen, CEO of social media software provider Likeable Local, explains that cloud unified communications (UC) services are often less expensive, yet more feature-rich, compared with SMB-level on-premise UC platforms. None of those posts, however, pinpoint precisely why small businesses will move to the cloud; whether they prefer the hosted model for cost savings, access to superior UC features or the ability to add and change services quickly, only time will tell.
Increasing WebRTC deployment
Web-savvy SMBs will start to take a serious look at WebRTC — technology that enables videoconferencing on websites. It’s a low-cost entry into omni-channel communications, which lets customers contact businesses via phone, web and all other systems. Tech.co columnist JT Ripton suggests WebRTC makes web communications easier and less expensive. PCMag points out that Microsoft is creating a back-end link for Skype-WebRTC interoperability. When Microsoft takes note of a technology, you know it’s a genuine contender. Yet Jim Machi — TMCnet blogger and vice-president of product management at network technology firm Dialogic — says businesses will move to WebRTC in a measured pace. “I know we have customers with actual deployments, but I don’t see the stampede.”
Emphasis on mobility
Jon Zimmerman, founder of Seattle-based mobile software provider Front Desk, notes a discrepancy in the approach many small businesses take to mobile technology. On one hand, he points to a study that says 60 per cent of SMBs view mobile solutions as essential. But he also points to another study that says 93 per cent of small business websites aren’t mobile-compatible.
Many SMBs know how important it is to have a mobile-first mentality to capture and communicate with consumers who increasingly use mobile devices to connect with goods and service providers. We’ll likely see many of these businesses put that mentality into practice in 2016. Expect to see SMBs invest in mobile-friendly websites rather than mobile app development. When money is tight, businesses have to prioritize. A mobile-friendly website is more universal in this Apple-versus-Android world, where app development necessarily means making one app for iOS users and another for Android users. No matter which platform customers use, they can access a mobile-friendly website from a tablet or smartphone.
With a strong focus on wireless, websites and cloud communications, SMBs will have their hands full next year — which could also mean that 2016 will be good for enterprising technology workers. Companies will need their skills and expertise to make the most of the next 12 months.
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