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There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the notion of the “wireless tipping point” — the point at which the number of wireless connections exceeds the number of wired connections. Many organizations have been caught unprepared for this surge of mobile devices hitting their networks. Do you have a wireless capacity plan in place to fill the demand? Do you have the wireless bandwidth to support the explosive growth in voice, video, and data over Wi-Fi? How will this mobile revolution impact your existing wired network? Is there redundancy and security built into your wireless network to deliver a wired-like experience for your users?
These are important questions that must be addressed today so you are not caught behind the wave rushing onto your organization’s shore. Workers are consumers, and they’ve become accustomed to carrying notebooks, tablets and smartphones. In fact, a rapidly growing percentage of these workers are carrying an average of three Wi-Fi-enabled devices into the workplace and are expecting the same seamless connectivity in their professional lives as they’ve enjoyed in their private lives.
According to research firm Gartner, 43% of enterprise workers use wireless networks, and that number is expected to rise to 58% by 2014. ABI Research says that global shipments of Wi-Fi-enabled cell phones will more than double between 2009 and 2011, from 144 million to 300 million. The fact is that two-thirds of the new workforce considers mobility to be the most important technology in their lives. The way in which they work will change the way networks are deployed and controlled.
Clearly, not all enterprises have been caught flat-footed in this device migration from wired desktop computers to wireless notebooks, tablets and smartphones. In fact, at least half of Fortune 500 companies bought Apple iPads in the first few months of its availability. These organizations prepared themselves for the onslaught of wireless demand while remaining aware of the challenges of network coverage, capacity, scalability, integration, security and reliability.
A perfect storm for BYOD
What’s causing this consumerization culture to take hold is nothing less than a perfect storm of three forces:
–Device adoption: Price points put the devices within reach of personal budgets. These larger screen sizes adapt the devices for practical use in a corporate environment, processing power supports users’ performance demands for speed and multitasking, battery life is reaching a full workday, and applications abound due to the massive ecosystem of developers.
–Mobility: Enterprises are increasingly decentralized, creating the need for a mobile workforce that can easily connect to company resources anytime, anyplace. Furthermore, the influx of information-hungry “millenials” into the workforce means a wireless device in every pocket and the growth of multitasking wireless cubicles or mobile offices.
–Wireless access: Wireless networks today are secure, fast and reliable as never before. In short, wireless is “enterprise-ready.”
So consider the plight of organizations that are not wireless-ready, but are getting heat from their staff to re-architect the network for wireless. The surge is on. Organizations can’t afford to alienate or demotivate employees, partners and customers due to a wireless network that is nonexistent, unreliable, insecure or bandwidth-constrained. It’s time to change.
The surge goes on
Industry pundits have said that the wireless tipping point will lead network providers to deliver massive improvements in the performance of their wireless infrastructure. It can’t happen too soon; the alternative, curtailing the use of wireless devices in the enterprise, is largely untenable. Widespread iPad adoption has already set the stage for greater acceptance of the device as the eventual replacement for the laptop computer, even if the two coexist for some time to come. And, of course, today’s smartphones are also bandwidth-hungry devices, and they’re here to stay.
Enterprises no longer have reasons to question the sophistication of Wi-Fi technology. The latest 802.11n with 3×3 antennas delivers up to 450 megabits per second of bandwidth, with 802.11ac reaching gigabit speeds in the coming years. Among other advances, there is now beam forming, the technology that drives up performance by increasing range and reducing interference. And distributed architectures place the intelligence and processing power at the network edge to illuminate bottlenecks and security holes.
Keys to an enterprise wireless win
For the enterprise, winning means ramping up to handle current wireless demand while planning for a wireless future that’s nearly impossible to predict. Here are a few considerations for an effective wireless migration strategy:
–Performance: Build scalable wireless bandwidth into your network to accommodate devices that can connect only wirelessly. This means not only supplying the raw bandwidth but also planning for a high density of mobile devices wherever your wireless staffers work and congregate.
–Integration: The latest version of the 802.11 standard is 802.11n, which delivers fast, secure and reliable connectivity. While preparing to support greater volumes of 802.11n devices, be sure to accommodate devices using legacy Wi-Fi technology.
–Security: With a flood of sensitive corporate data crossing the airwaves today, security has never been a higher priority. But while building in security to the network, remember that multiple security overlays can also hinder performance.
–Mobility with ease: Enterprises must build their networks for unimpeded, continuous connectivity. Mobile workers include not only road warriors and remote-office workers but also office-bound workers who need unfettered connectivity as they move about the corporate campus.
–Application availability: IT finds itself in the hot seat with the widespread adoption of corporate video and multimedia, the need for mobility-friendly applications, the mounting numbers of business and productivity apps available on tablet and smart devices, and the move of key corporate applications to the cloud. Application availability, speed and security have become paramount considerations for the wireless network.
–Future proofing: No technology is intrinsically future-proof. But one thing is for sure, with healthy wireless demand today, it’s only a matter of time before it will double. Wi-Fi infrastructure equipment that will not upgrade or scale easily and quickly to meet higher demand will get the boot.
Have we reached the wireless tipping point yet? You bet. The pace of advances in wireless technology has made broad worldwide adoption a certainty. All aboard the wireless train — it’s a bullet train that’s not slowing down.