Small Business on the Go: Cloud Access Tips for Traveling

Date: January 05, 2017

Here’s everything you need to know about working while in flight.

Like it or not, business travelers have one more reason to make productive use of those long hours in the air. Airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, and Delta have steadily been equipping their fleets with expanded inflight Wi-Fi services. The trend reflects a similar crossroads for entrepreneurs. While just 37 percent of U.S. small businesses were adapted to the cloud in 2014, according to Intuit, nearly four out of five will be “fully cloud operational” by 2020.

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Yet even on the ground, many small business owners who lack IT departments don’t understand the cloud, says Michael Campbell, the CEO at Minneapolis-based International Decision Systems, a software solutions provider for the asset finance industry. Campbell often travels domestically and to his company’s offices in Australia, India, and Europe. When it’s available, he uses inflight Wi-Fi to synchronize work between his iPhone, iPad, laptop, and home desktop.

“If you’re working on important information or have files you need to pull up on a regular basis, having them on the cloud means they’re disaster-proofed,” Campbell says. Thanks to built-in disaster recovery capabilities, if you lose your connection, the information can be uploaded once it comes back.

Syncing Your Devices in Flight

Nowadays, passengers are typically allowed to use computers, tablets, and smartphones on airplanes. To take advantage of the downtime, business travelers need three things:

  • An airline with Internet access: For a fee, most airlines provide access to Wi-Fi.
  • A device with Wi-Fi capability
  • A cloud service on the device you’re using: The major services are Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, and Apple’s iCloud. There are small differences between them. OneDrive, for example, is a pre-installed file-hosting service that requires an annual subscription. The cost starts at about $60/year. Subscribers get a terabyte of storage space, as compared with the fifteen GB of space Google Drive offers for free.

How It Works

Inflight Wi-Fi is a work in progress. On planes equipped with Internet providers like Gogo, connectivity is provided by wireless access points and antennas throughout the plane. In other words, you’re sharing the service with all the passengers checking their email and updating their fantasy football lineups. Connectivity can be sluggish 36,000 feet above ground, and airlines are increasing their bandwidth to better accommodate passengers. Eventually, Gogo plans to use satellites as well as ground-based cellular towers across North America, which could improve the service.

RELATED: Small Businesses Are Slow to Adopt New Technology

For now, business travelers need to check in advance to make sure the service is available on a given flight. Getting connected on an international flight can be tricky and sometimes isn’t an option. Be sure to ask whether you’ll be charged by bandwidth, hours, or other factors. “The ability to keep something on my local laptop, have it available to me when I’m in flight, and know the system will synchronize the other copies has been very helpful,” Campbell says.

This is the first in a series about tech trends that small businesses should consider.

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