Steering into a Wireless Era

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Steering into a Wireless Era

Mahesh Gupta, Lead, Enterprise Network Architecture Sales Cisco, India and SAARC
Article published in Voice&Data (online and print)

Greater employee mobility is one of the biggest trends visible across organizations today. Today’s tech-savvy employees demand greater access to global expertise and greater flexibility in device usage. They expect to be enabled with the latest technologies so they can interact in their workplace just as they do at home through their device of choice from wherever they are. Mobile workers prefer to use wireless devices to do their jobs and need a wireless infrastructure that is easy to deploy and enables flexible, seamless communication with the enterprise in real time.

Mobile Workplace
Today, the availability of affordable mobile devices, tablets and ultra-portables is increasing the momentum for a mobile workplace. According to the Cisco’s Virtual Networking Index 2013, India’s IP traffic will grow six fold from 2012- 2017; portable devices, such as smartphones and tablets will contribute 40% to IP traffic in 2017 up from 3% in 2012.

As wireless is becoming the norm, multiple devices will get attached to multiple networks, producing more data, and push organizations to implement innovative technology solutions to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. This is because employees seek more control, more access, and more security, all of which will bring more complexity if not provided in the right way.

Consumer push for Wi-Fi
Clearly the Wi-Fi market is at brink of growth curve that is being triggered by a dramatic increase in smartphone and mobile device penetration, along with reducing broadband rates. The retail sector is fuelling this growth with cafes, shopping malls and restaurants providing dedicated Wi-Fi zones (hotspots) to attract customers.

According to a research by the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) the number of Wi-Fi hotspots is expected to reach 2.7 million globally, with usage growing 200 percent, by 2014. This growth is driven by new enabling devices, technology improvements, public and private availability and tiered mobile data plans from service providers.

Challenges in a Wireless World
Given the transition to an increasingly wireless era, the biggest issue facing the IT side of an organization is the resulting deluge of data-'data-in-motion'. Other challenges include:

  1. Security - Risks around hacking and cyber jacking increase with the increasing number of mobile devices. The use of smartphones for accessing Wi-Fi can act as a conduit for third-party applications and content that can bypass their control and even visibility. Few Gen-Y users think twice before sharing their personal data to access information and free applications. Not managing this challenge will deter the growth of mobility initiatives and Wi-Fi, undermine employee productivity and result in loss of confidential data.
  2. Technology - Complicated log-in and authentication process, time limits for establishing credentials, hotspot selection and payment modes are some of the key challenges that need to be tackled from a technology perspective.
  3. Network Infrastructure - An increase in number of devices puts a strain on the existing network. Organizations need to create multi-client environments to seamlessly support a range of devices running on separate platforms.

Given the above challenges, IT must secure and manage a range of devices, integrate multiple networks, enable applications, access information with a high level of security, and ensure a consistent experience regardless of network connection or location. IT departments must increasingly manage disparate networks to handle a rising number of devices and applications.

There is a need for Unified Access solutions which come with a highly secure network infrastructure based on one policy source and one management solution for the entire network. Such solutions help to provide a consistent set of network capabilities across wired, wireless and virtual private network (VPN) networks, allowing them to behave as a single entity. This can enable organizations focus less time on daily operations and more time on new innovative business services.

Wi-Fi: Way forward
Despite the challenges, Wi-Fi represents a significant business opportunity, especially for service providers (SPs). According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, by 2016, 51 percent of IP traffic will be delivered over Wi-Fi networks, with about 10 percent of mobile data delivered over cellular networks. Therefore many fixed, mobile or integrated SPs around the globe are either planning or already investing in Wi-Fi services.

Trends indicate that the increased use of mobile devices is making Wi-Fi networks an extension of cellular networks. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are taking on new roles, such as offloading data traffic from traditionally used cellular data networks.For SPs, the transition towards using Wi-Fi hotspots to offer connectivity to customers provides a unique monetization opportunity because many carriers operate a substantial number of hotspots. Wi-Fi hotspots can also become a viable extension of the mobile business and help business add value to the bottom line, while simultaneously improving customer experience.

According to industry analysts, carrier Wi-Fi space is growing, driven by the explosion in demand from mobile operators using Wi-Fi to augment their 3G/4G deployments and offload a portion of mobile data traffic to the unlicensed spectrum. In India telecom operators see Wi-Fi as a key data growth enabler since it will bring down the overall per user cost of accessing the internet. They are embracing Wi-Fi to offload excess data and enhance the broadband experience for users. SPs that serve SME/SMB organizations can benefit through customized cloud-based Wi-Fi solutions, especially where the workforce is geographically distributed. Subscription based models such as Wi-Fi-as-a-Service will be the most sought after.

Clearly Wi-Fi networks are an essential to meet the ever-growing demand for ubiquitous internet access; vendors and service providers will be instrumental in driving its adoption. In order to optimize revenues, it is important to enhance the efficacy of the wireless network, offering location based intelligence and analytics to organizations. The need of the hour is to provide a consistent, secure and seamless user experience.

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