With the rise of IoT and private networks, wireless in the enterprise goes beyond an extension of public WAN cellular networks for better coverage and more capacity, or a substitute for wireline connectivity. Wireless networks in the enterprise assume a venue-dependent role, tied to specific IoT and other applications complementary to providing connectivity to employees and guests.
The attractiveness of IoT comes from the opportunity to leverage connectivity – predominantly wireless – to improve the quality, efficiency and reliability of business processes, to increase outputs, and to reduce costs. But this comes at a cost that is not purely, or even primarily, financial.
In addition to deploying the wireless infrastructure and the applications required, IoT forces a deep change in the way enterprises run their business. Although this change should bring value in the long term, it creates operational and cultural challenges that will require time and the adoption of the right business model to address. IoT will not change the enterprise overnight, but the wireless infrastructure foundations must be in place to enable a gradual introduction of applications. This relaxed pace will give most enterprises the ability to adapt to change while keeping disruption under control and building confidence in automated and real-time processing in IoT applications.
In turn, the wireless infrastructure will have to evolve to meet the needs of IoT applications in the enterprise along multiple dimensions.
Coverage and capacity
Many IoT applications require ubiquitous indoor coverage. And while most IoT applications have modest capacity requirements, some such as augmented or virtual reality (AR and VR), or video-based applications, demand high capacity. Outdoor macro networks still provide most of the mobile connectivity within buildings. But because the signal has to go through windows and walls, good indoor connectivity is difficult to achieve, and indoor traffic requires more network capacity than outdoor traffic.
New building codes designed for energy efficiency have the unintended effect of making indoor coverage more difficult, and more expensive in terms of resources. Consider that 80 percent of traffic comes from devices located indoors today and with IoT this figure is likely to increase further. That makes a compelling case for adding in-building wireless infrastructure in the enterprise. In many cases, this is the only cost-effective way to provide the coverage and capacity needed inside buildings.
Latency has grabbed mindshare lately as we consume more video and as voice has become embedded in data traffic. Both voice and video traffic are extremely sensitive to latency – sluggish high latency dooms quality of experience (QoE) even on a network with outstanding capacity. To some extent, low latency is necessary to protect the value of capacity.
The need (and expectation) for extra-low latency increases with some IoT services that run in real time, and with new applications such as VR and AR. The enterprise will play a significant role in pushing for low latency in 5G networks.
Pervasive connectivity across networks
Pervasive connectivity is a corollary of stringent coverage, capacity density, and latency requirements. No single frequency or network is likely to be sufficient to support the required QoE and performance across the entire venue. In locations where one network does not provide the necessary quality coverage, devices should be able to connect to networks that have better coverage.
When one network is congested, devices should be able to switch to networks that are less loaded. When licensed bands are at capacity, networks should be able to leverage unlicensed spectrum, using technologies such as LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) or LWA (LTE Wi-Fi Link Aggregation). This flexibility enables the type of pervasive connectivity that uses spectrum and network resources opportunistically.
Intelligent allocation of resources
Pervasive connectivity requires – and its benefits are amplified by – the ability to intelligently manage resources and traffic demand end to end. While this holds for all wireless networks, in enterprise networks intelligence has to be applied case by case to the specific enterprise’s wireless environment. That includes devices, networks, services and applications, all oriented to the specific enterprise’s priorities.
With IoT, intelligent allocation of resources becomes more valuable as networks have to support a wider range of applications with different requirements in the same location, at the same time.
Intelligence in resource allocation is not a binary concept. We should expect a gradual evolution as requirements become clearer, IoT applications are more widely used, more solutions are commercially available, and enterprises and operators are more comfortable with automated tools using artificial intelligence or machine learning.
The transition is toward real-time traffic management at the application level in virtualized networks that can host functionality in both centralized and distributed architectures. It is a major transition for wireless networks, so we can expect that it will take some time for commercial networks to employ full-fledged real-time traffic management.
In the second post, we will look at the effects of IoT traffic on the enterprise network and the key transformative factors looming for enterprise wireless networks.