Wireless networks: Getting ahead of the demand
The rapid rise of wireless technologies require careful planning
What’s the fastest-growing traffic segment of wireless networks? The answer for a large majority of organizations and agencies is traffic from wireless devices, and that growth is showing no signs of slowing down, says one expert. “It’s kind of like trying to stop the tide,” said Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “You either adapt or get run over by it.”
The growth of wireless device traffic comes from inside and outside of organizations. Some of the traffic comes from organizations and agencies extensively deploying their own wireless devices such as tablets and smart phones. Last fall, for instance, the Veterans Affairs Department announced it was acquiring up to 100,000 tablets including iPads as well as those that run on Android and Windows operating systems, and even the White House is looking to add a Wi-Fi network, which would encompass 60 buildings and several outdoor areas.
Employee-owned devices contribute, too. Some of the wireless usage is sanctioned as part of a bring-your-own-device trend, a policy that allows end users to access an organization’s data and network using a personal device. For instance, a recent Gartner Inc. study — “User Survey Analysis: Impact of Mobile Devices on Network and Data Center Infrastructure” — found that, of the organizations surveyed, 32 percent said they support employee-owned smart phones, 37 percent support employees’ tablets, and 44 percent support their laptops. The biggest change: The wireless network has gone from being a secondary network to a primary one for many users.
However, there’s also a sizable portion of the traffic that comes from employees accessing the network on their own without IT’s knowledge or approval. One recent Forrester study found that 40 percent of Generation Y workers said they will bring their own devices to work whether IT supports them or not.
Filling in the holes
Organizations that want to provide stable, reliable wireless service might think that the key to doing so is simply adding access points, but this strategy doesn’t work for every organization or every wireless network. The first step that all agencies should take is an assessment that identifies the type of traffic going over the wireless network. Are users accessing e-mail and software as a service? Are they using their devices for virtual desktop access? Are they looking to implement unified communications? The answers, say experts, will dictate the equipment, security and management tools that will be required for success. And some organizations might do an assessment and realize that they don’t need as much wireless coverage as they thought so they can focus on guest access.
Once agencies can predict growth based on current usage patterns, they might want to reassess the wireless technology that is in place. For most, the current installed technology is based on the 802.11n standard, using two spatial streams for a theoretical throughput of 300 megabits/sec — 150 megabits/sec of throughput per stream. But just because the technology is mature doesn’t mean that technologists aren’t able to get more out of the standard. Today, there are several vendors that market three-stream access points that provide up to 450 megabits/sec throughput and with good results, said Craig Mathias, principal analyst at Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless and mobile technologies. “We’ve seen up to 100 percent improvement [in capacity] for three-stream versus two-stream access points,” he said.
In addition to wireless equipment, Mathias said it is crucial for every organization to make sure that the wired network can handle the traffic coming in from wireless networks. “The wired network is a major component of wireless success that the majority of people just don’t think about,” he said. “The systems are interconnected components, and you always have to think about the weakest link of the chain.”