Thought Leadership

The Wireless Enterprise

Sridevi Koneru, Director/Head, WNBU-India, Cisco Systems India

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Today's organisations must contend with increasingly complex communication environments featuring a wide array of communication methods. Employees, business partners, customers, and geographies communicate with one another through infinite combinations of wired, wireless, and mobile phones; voice messaging; e-mail; fax; mobile clients; and rich-media conferencing. And most often, employees are away from the office, working from hotels, their own homes, and even from their clients' offices. As a result, the demand for mobility in the organisation has been growing dramatically. Users have made it clear that they prefer to be untethered, and organisations are fast embracing the productivity enhancements that mobility provides.

Picture this - Sunil as a sales representative for a retail software firm often needs to be constantly available to retail clients, who expect personalized service for their customized sales systems. While out of the country on a two-day trade show, he learns that there is a software problem that could delay the rollout of a point of- sale system for a client's new bookshop. He leaves an urgent voicemail at his main office, but he still needs to solve the software problem, update his customer, and put the project back on track-fast.

Mobile applications like instant messaging, sms, voice services and network access on the road are changing the way people work together. If organizations can provide their employees with immediate access to the information and tools they use each day, anytime, and from anywhere they can accelerate decisions, gain productivity, and strengthen competitive advantage.

Back at the trade show, Sunil's software manager calls him at his office number, and the call is automatically routed to his laptop computer that is connected to his office network. He answers the call on his laptop, using a soft phone application that lets the computer act as a phone. The software manager then shares a project tracking application on his desktop screen, and goes over development timeframes and milestones. Working closely together in real-time, they find a way to solve the problem. They then launch a Web-based phone conference and invite the customer to join and discuss their plan. The new point-of-sale system stays on schedule, and the customer is satisfied-and doesn't even know that Sunil is in fact out of the country.

As illustrated, time zones, geography and distance are now irrelevant and wireless technologies are changing the fabric of business and society. The device boundaries between PDA's, laptops, handheld tools, smartphones, etc are increasingly blurred with wireless convergence. Moreover, consumer behavior attracts people to own cool devices. There is an inherent expectation that these devices work for employees both in their personal lives as well as their professional lives and logically employees would prefer not to carry around two or more devices. So, as the line between consumer and enterprise mobility gets thinner and lighter, enterprise IT should be looking at how to extend their existing networks to serve these new demands.

As a result, wireless technology has become a "must have" for most organizations and is a critical part of their overall network strategy. Enterprises have already begun deploying wireless throughout their organizations- and not simply for business travelers and in-building mobile workers, but for the entire organization. Pervasive networks supporting more users and applications require a wireless network that can scale in performance by providing increased throughput while delivering greater reliability and predictability.

The primary drivers for organisations to transition to a next generation wireless network include:

  • An increasing number of users with varying needs want wireless connectivity. In addition to the mobile workers and business travelers who were among the earliest adopters of wireless technology, organizations must now use their wireless networks to serve a wide variety of users with diverse needs. Employees in remote offices want to remain connected to their corporate networks; previously desktop-bound employees now want the ability to move throughout a building or across an enterprise campus during their workday and remain connected; and factory workers, hospital employees, and students on university campuses all need to remain connected and access critical information without sacrificing mobility. The increasing number of users is placing a greater demand on wireless networks, resulting in a need for higher throughput, along with greater reliability and predictability.
  • More mission-critical applications are being placed on the wireless network. The convenience of mobility, coupled with the availability of robust wireless security, has led organizations in a variety of industries to use their wireless networks for more than just e-mail and Internet access. Hospitals use their wireless networks to store patient records and send radiology images. Universities use WLANs to administer tests, and manufacturing facilities use them to track inventory. Stock exchanges use wireless networks to conduct financial transactions in real time, requiring the utmost in availability. The wireless network is now considered just as mission-critical as the wired network. For this reason, reliability and predictability are paramount.
  • Businesses must support growing diversity in devices and guarantee backward and forward compatibility. Along with the increasing number of users from all areas of the organization comes a wider variety of client devices that require connectivity to the wireless network. In addition to the usual laptops, wireless networks must now support PDAs, mobile e-mail devices, and increasingly voice-over-WLAN (VoWLAN) or dual-mode phones. To realize the full capabilities of many of these new devices, businesses are looking for a next-generation wireless network that can provide compatibility with existing and emerging wireless networks across any device.
  • Voice, data, and video are now converging on the wireless network. Businesses have recognized the benefits of using their WLANs for video and voice applications. As the technology for voice and video over WLAN has improved, the cost benefits of combining voice and video with data over one network has proved to be compelling for many enterprises. The wireless LAN must be designed to be voice ready and to handle the resulting latency-sensitive multimedia applications while delivering reliable and predictable coverage.
  • Wireless technology is being used in more challenging RF environments. Wireless technology is deployed in a broad variety of environments, including those that present significant challenges for RF communications. Among these are factory floors, retail warehouses, hospitals and university campuses. These environments require more reliable RF coverage to combat interference and multi path challenges.

However, while adopting new trends, maintaining wireless network security and preventing unauthorized access to sensitive corporate systems is a serious, ongoing challenge. To maintain the integrity of a corporate network, enterprises need a network technology that addresses today's main business challenges which are:

  • A secure wireless network that ensures that information being transmitted to laptops, PDAs, and other mobile devices remains secure.
  • Managing disparate networks by bridging wired and all types of wireless networks, so that people, devices, information, and data moves freely across networks.
  • Integrating business applications further into business processes and workflow.
  • Wireless services that can help customers build a consistent, secure and reliable user experience, and improve their organization's productivity and collaboration and
  • Enable a collaborative experience for employees across work spaces with consistent connectivity capable of supporting rich media communications.

Once these challenges are addressed, enterprises around the world will rapidly become borderless with the need for anyone, anything, and anywhere to be connected anytime. Employees, partners and customers as well as devices and applications will be able to connect at home, in the hotel and on the train and they expect the same productivity, the same access to the information and the same responsiveness. Moreover, using next generation wireless technology can increase the throughput on a wireless network and has the potential to offer up to five times the performance of current wireless networks. And dual-band radios, operating in both 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands, will be able to deliver an aggregate of 600 Mbps. In a typical deployment, businesses will see a noticeable increase in the amount of bandwidth available per client.

In fact, according to IDC, the number of mobile workers worldwide will exceed 1.0 billion in 2011 and by 2011 more than 50% of Fortune 500 companies will interact directly with their customers via mobile devices (Gartner). It's then high time we embrace emerging technologies and devices that are going to dramatically change the way we interact with others - as well as how we work, educate, and entertain ourselves.

Looking ahead, India is on the verge of rolling out powerful networks created by 2.5G and 3G technologies - offering unprecedented speed and ubiquitous coverage. In addition, low price points will result in widespread adoption by both business and consumer customers. This coupled with ongoing innovation in the wireless space we will see added performance and reach of these networks. In essence, the next generation of wireless technology promises to deliver many of the attributes necessary to address the increasing number of users, the proliferation of various client devices, the convergence of voice, data and video on the wireless LAN, the increase in mission-critical applications over the wireless network, and the trend towards deploying wireless in more challenging environments.

Sridevi Koneru

Sridevi Koneru,
Director/Head, WNBU-India,
Cisco Systems India

 

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