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Global IT spending will reach $3.7 trillion in 2018, up 4.5 percent from 2017, as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence, and blockchain drive growth, according to Gartner. At the center of new innovations impacting the enterprise are wireless networks, which serve as the connected workforce’s heartbeat. As any CIO knows, wireless technologies are rapidly changing, making it difficult to keep up with what new solutions to budget for; what new network features to adopt; and what technology will still be relevant before the next wave of new WLAN product rollouts make a splash. Adding to these challenges is the growing need for IT professionals to ensure seamless cellular coverage throughout the enterprise—an ask that is on the rise as businesses increasingly adopt BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies.
To map out a winning network strategy, I’ve zeroed in on top trends to examine that will help you keep pace with the evolving wireless industry.
• NFV and SDN Reign
Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) are moving from the lab to real-world deployments. In fact, forecasts show that NFV and SDN markets will grow significantly by 2021, hitting $ 158 billion.
NFV should be a go-to for wireless networks, as the technology eliminates the need for expensive hardware and physical infrastructure, while reducing capital expenditures (CapEx) and operating expenses (OpEx). Using cloud-based technology, NFV can upgrade an enterprise’s network equipment—servers, switches and routers—to handle new standards, all while eliminating complete system overhauls. Improved scalability, increased data visibility, distributed data centers and information integrity are all among the benefits of NFV.
Of note, in 2018 we’ll see improved interoperability for NFV, as the New IP Agency (NIA) recently launched a new NFV Certification Program that ensures multivendor flexibility.
Complementary to NFV, SDN should also be a focus for IT strategies as it separates the network control logic from network equipment to make the network programmable; essentially, it centralizes command and control of the network without having to physically reconfigure or program individual devices. SDN can be used without NFV, and vice versa; however, when used together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
• Passpoint Simplifies Wi-Fi
To create a truly ubiquitous connected experience—one that removes the headaches of Wi-Fi logins, passwords and other frustrations—the enterprise should plan for next generation Wi-Fi by adopting Passpoint. Users with a Passpoint profile installed on their device can enjoy a seamless and automatic Wi-Fi connection from the moment they enter the building.
Passpoint networks provide an encrypted connection automatically, ensuring enterprise-level security, with no additional software or Virtual Private Network (VPNs) needed. With several IEEE 802.11 security features, Passpoint transforms the security position of devices connected to hotspots with guaranteed mutual authentication and over-the-air encryption, as well as restricted peer-to-peer traffic, helping to protect sensitive information such as passwords, bank account numbers and personal information. Additionally, the end-to-end authentication protocols ensure unauthorized users and mobile devices are filtered out, while also protecting authenticated mobile devices from connecting to rogue—and potentially unsafe—hotspots.
• Make Way for 5G and Convergence
Most CIOs are focused on Wi-Fi networks, but cellular connectivity within the enterprise cannot be overlooked, especially as mobile data consumption continues to skyrocket. Globally, mobile data traffic will grow sevenfold by 2021 at a CAGR of 46 percent. Apps and BYOD policies are driving mobile traffic volumes as people increasingly carry three mobile devices with them to stream presentations, conduct live video conferences and more.
5G is the next and newest wireless standard that is being built to keep up with the proliferation of mobile devices and mobile data growth. It will be based on the unified aggregation of multiple spectrum bands, converging licensed, unlicensed and shared spectrum. Merging licensed, unlicensed and shared networks provides more throughput, reduced latency, better coverage and lower costs. It’s a system of converged networks that opens a larger pool of airwaves, creating more lanes for wireless connections and less RF congestion.
Wireless infrastructure should be the first order of business when readying the enterprise for 5G deployments. New networks, new devices, new antennas and new applications will all need to be integrated within a property to accommodate more mobile data. When surveying solutions, opt for unlicensed and licensed wireless networks like Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), small cells and upgraded Wi-Fi as these will not only meet the mobile needs of today, but are built to create a hyper-dense network that is scalable enough to handle what’s to come with 5G and the convergence of spectrum.
From virtualization to 5G, it’s a wireless world and the opportunities are endless. While wireless can seem daunting, by staying on top of trends, you’re taking the first step to launching a network that is a win-win for you and your enterprise.
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