It may be hard to believe, but it was five years ago that Apple Inc.    released the first iPhone in the U.S. market. The iPad is now more than two years old – an eon in the technology world.

And as the number of portable Internet-capable devices available to consumers grows, companies are increasingly issuing them to employees, allowing them to take their work virtually anywhere.

According to experts, the benefits would be happier and more productive employees. But experts also caution that employers should weigh those benefits against the potential pitfalls of increased IT security risks and take special steps to counter them before providing the devices to their employees or allowing them to use their own for work.

“Mobile employees and work-at-home telecommuters are not tied to a company-provided notebook or computer but can still access files, email and customer information databases anywhere they have access to the Internet,” said Kemp Delo, owner of Net Access Solutions LLC, a Birmingham company specializing in sales and marketing of telecommunications products.

Delo said bringing the devices into the protected environment of the office network not only gives employees the access they need, but it increases the risk of malicious data and viruses exposure.

It also increases the risk of corporate data being lost or leaked, he said.

To counter the threat, he said, companies must adopt new IT security strategies that enable the devices to work and minimize risk. Fortunately, that is fast becoming the norm, he said.

Another potential problem is the possibility for bottlenecking a company’s Internet connection. The connectivity required to support desktop computers is often not enough to support the simultaneous use of multiple portable devices, forcing companies to spend significant sums increasing their bandwidth and upgrading technology.

That trend can be seen in the fast-growing demand for bandwidth nationwide. According toCharter Communications    , just two years ago, only 2 to 3 percent of the company’s fiber customers requested 1 gigabyte circuits and only 25 to 30 percent requested 100 megabyte circuits.

Today, those numbers have climbed to 20 and 55 percent respectively. Additionally, demand for bandwidth on Charter’s national backbone has climbed 40 percent annually for the past four years.

“Some of this can be attributed to our customer growth, but a fair percentage is attributed to each customer using more bandwidth, which you can directly attribute to the bandwidth-hungry nature of the numerous devices in business and home and the type of content these devices use,” said Scott Fairchild, director of product management for Charter Business.

Fortunately, on that issue, Fairchild and Delo agree the cost for bandwidth is falling, despite the growing demand.

“While demand for additional bandwidth has been climbing, the total available bandwidth available from various providers such as Charter has been expanding at an even faster rate,” Fairchild said.

“Also, the cost of network equipment, which is the most expensive part of upgrading any network, has continued to decrease each year.”

 Article Originally Appeared in the Boston Business Journal