New iPad could cause corporate network crunch

Hordes of new iPad users at work could sap Wi-Fi bandwidth, experts say

The new Apple iPad, which sports a higher-resolution screen, a 1080p HD camera and LTE network capability, will likely entice millions of buyers -- but it could bog down corporate networks and give IT managers headaches.

Here's a scenario that could give network managers pause: iPad owners looking to avoid downloading high-definition videos or movies over LTE (to avoid steep data costs) may instead do so over Wi-Fi at work. And another: What happens when those with Wi-Fi-only iPads all decide to download iOS or application updates at the same time?

The Wi-Fi download burden on corporate networks could be severe, experts said. That's especially true for a company's branch office, where perhaps 20 to 100 workers are sharing the capacity of a typical T-1 line functioning at 1.544Mbps, experts said.

Even a few users simultaneously downloading apps and videos on their new iPads could eat up bandwidth capacity in a smaller office, delaying other vital data transmissions, said Ed O'Connell, senior product manager for WAN optimization products at Blue Coat Systems.

O'Connell has the numbers to back up his concern.

"In a 100-person office, if just 20% are using the new iPad, you are talking about a tremendous amount of network traffic," he said, arguing that the iPad's beefed-up specs -- 2048-by-1536-pixel display, A5X processor, 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and 1080p HD video recording capabilities -- could entice more enterprise users.

"With all those features, what will happen is that a lot of businesses will find the new iPad a lot more acceptable as a tablet device than in the past, and that means a tremendous amount of added network traffic," O'Connell said.

According to Apple, 15.4 million iPad 2s were sold in the fourth quarter of 2011, more than any of the computers sold by any single PC maker. Given the iPad 2's success, one market analysis firm, eMarketer, predicted that the 28 million iPad users in 2011 will nearly double to 54 million in 2013.

Given that many people use iTunes to get iPad apps, O'Connell said, iTunes updates can add to network congestion. There were four updates to iTunes in April 2011 alone, with two of them weighing in at 75MB (and version 10.4.1 topped out at 90.2MB). If you have numerous employees getting updates of that size at about the same time, "that's a sizable amount of network traffic," he said.

He estimated that downloads of that size done by 10 to 20 people at the same time could use the entire capacity of a T-1 line for as long as three minutes. While that might not sound like a lot of network congestion, some companies might find it unacceptable.

O'Connell also noted that many apps get constant updates, making network demands unpredictable. The American Airlines and Delta travel apps he uses are updated completely, perhaps every two months. Those updates can run from 13MB to 20MB in size -- and Wi-Fi is often required for large updates.

Blue Coat hasn't measured the impact of video used by tablets and smartphones in typical workplaces. But uploading videos to Youtube and other sites can crowd out other network traffic.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and VP of Marketing Phil Schiller announced the new iPad in San Francisco on Wednesday, March 7. Schiller said the iPad will be available with LTE and has a much better screen than the iPad 2.

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