Hop on the bandwidth bandwagon

Speed matters in 'The Cloud'

I attended the annual Leading Real Estate Companies of the World conference last week in Orlando, Fla., and participated in a handful of cloud-computing workshops.

Workshop topics included private vs. public cloud solutions, choosing the right communications platform for your brokerage, cloud file storage, and Web-based transaction management software.

Cloud computing can be a great fit for the real estate industry and offers many benefits to real estate professionals, particularly in terms of reducing information technology (IT) hassle and expensive infrastructure.

But there is a catch, as Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, points out in a thought-provoking piece, "Cloud Computing and the Streaming of Everything Will Change Media Forever."

Joel writes, "As the Internet becomes the ultimate archive for all of your personal stuff (photos, emails, etc.) and it’s mixed with the full streaming of content, bandwidth becomes the new hard drive. This will be the big (and hard) media hurdle. To date, the cable and mobile carriers have made it difficult."

The key takeaway in this passage for me is "bandwidth becomes the new hard drive." As brokerages and real estate agents move infrastructure and applications to the cloud to be accessed remotely on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, the need for bandwidth and high-speed networks becomes essential.

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When I migrated our firm’s email system over to Google Apps, I installed high-speed Internet modems in all of our offices to compensate for bandwidth issues and improve performance.

What about mobile? What carrier is the right fit for your business? Deciding which mobile device or network is the best can be challenging. Unfortunately, the marketing spin put forth by major mobile carriers promoting "3G," "4G" and "LTE" networks has muddied the waters and confused consumers.

"Of all the confusing technology terms used in consumer marketing today, perhaps the most opaque is ’4G,’ used to describe a new, much faster generation of cellular data on smartphones, tablets and other devices. It sounds simple, but there are many varieties of 4G, and conflicting claims," writes Walt Mossberg of All Things Digital. Mossberg’s ’4G Guide’ provides an in-depth look at 4G and debunks some of the myths surrounding the new 4G networks.

Another issue worth noting: It appears that Internet service providers and mobile carriers are heading in a different direction than developers, which is disconcerting.

For example, there has been tremendous innovation in mobile application development in the last two years, especially with rich media. On the iPad alone, real estate pros can edit and upload HD video to YouTube, conduct video conferencing with numerous apps, and even color-correct and add professional-quality effects to high-resolution photography with the new iPhoto app.

On the flip side, unlimited data packages are a thing of the past, and most mobile carriers seem to cap and throttle data speeds. Try uploading those high-resolution images from iPhoto to the cloud with only two bars on a 3G network.

Many technology pundits who cover this topic closely tend to focus on the disconnect between the mobile carriers and the technology companies developing mobile products.

Greg Bensinger of The Wall Street Journal stated in "AT&T Ends All-You-Can-Eat": "Carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless, have long chafed at having to spend billions of dollars to build and maintain networks only to watch Internet companies like Google Inc. and device makers like Apple Inc. collect most of the profits for using them."

So, what does all this mean for real estate professionals? If you’re contemplating moving to the cloud, it is imperative to consider adding additional bandwidth resources internally (high-speed cable modems, fiber optics, etc.) and choosing the fastest mobile networks with the largest data plans available in the marketplace.

Remember, utilizing tablets and smartphones in the field can be productive and efficient. However, these devices are even more efficient when they work fast.

Tom Flanagan is the director of information technology at Residential Properties Ltd. in Providence, R.I. You can contact him at tflanagan@residentialproperties.com or @tflan on Twitter.

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