The evolution of the enterprise
Enterprise network connectivity is no longer limited to Wi-Fi access points (APs) and LAN switches that support devices such as laptops, printers, tablets and smartphones. We are seeing ever-increasing types of IoT devices in enterprises: both low-end low-power devices but also high-end mission critical devices supporting automation and smart systems. It is not only about IT anymore, but also about operational technologies, a.k.a. “OT.”
As the age of wireless IoT convergence approaches, networks are supporting multiple wireless protocols – such as ZigBee, Bluetooth and LoRa – for a wide range of cloud-powered IoT devices and applications. These include smart assistants, climate control sensors and systems, mission-critical automation equipment and intelligent industrial systems. Furthermore, cellular technologies such as 4G LTE used to be deployed only in licensed spectrum as wide area networks. Now LTE networks can be deployed locally in enterprises in shared spectrum (such as U.S. CRBS band in 3.5GHz) as private LTE networks, enabling many new high-end use cases with additional capabilities.
The enterprise has also evolved well beyond the days when networks were built, hosted and maintained at the local headquarters of an organization. In this legacy paradigm, employees and guests used basic devices such as PCs and smartphones to access the internet and applications over Wi-Fi and Ethernet. Moreover, there were dedicated on-premises appliances for each network function, including security systems (UTM, IPS/IDS), wireless LAN controllers and IP-PBX. In addition, many applications were hosted locally, including email, CRM and ERP applications.
The age of wireless convergence
With the advent of the cloud, dedicated appliances are being replaced with as-a-service offerings, which includes network security as-a-service and cloud managed Wi-Fi. Organizations are connecting to the internet via SD-WAN, while leased lines are either replaced or augmented with DSL, cable and wireless LTE backhaul. Concurrently, more devices and applications in the enterprise cut the (wired) cord and moved to the cloud and wireless edge, although these devices still require wired switches. Perhaps most importantly, Wi-Fi gets complemented by additional wireless protocols such as ZigBee, Bluetooth, LoRa and Z-Wave, along with new private LTE using the shared spectrum, such as the CBRS band, to support a new age of cloud-powered IoT devices and applications.
The connected multi-dwelling unit (MDU)
One example of an evolved enterprise paradigm is a modern Multi-Dwelling Unit (MDU). These smart properties are typically equipped with automated monitor and control systems, such as HVACs with exhaust fans and cooling towers; smart irrigation devices, intelligent lighting, as well as smoke/CO2 and water leak detectors. MDUs also feature extensive security and access control systems, including cameras, motion sensors, card readers and remote or stationary panic buttons. These systems, devices and applications typically have their own set of high-bandwidth connectivity and quality of service requirements. While some of these can be served by ZigBee and Bluetooth, many will require new generation of Wi-Fi 6 (formerly 802.11ax) access points. Powered by multi-gigabit switches, these new APs support multiple connectivity options and also benefit from private LTE networks that provide additional quality of service, extended range for IoT devices and indoor cellular coverage for residents. On the service side, MDU networks can be designed to assist with resident and guest onboarding, while serving as the foundation for smart apartment applications that offer additional revenue opportunities for property owners such as tiered internet and IoT smart home apps. Private applications can run in a private cloud or at the edge, while open APIs can help MDU owners create custom, information-rich dashboards and toolboxes.
Wireless smart campuses
Educational facilities and smart campuses offer yet another example of the systems, devices and applications current networks are required to support. These include resource management solutions, automated irrigation systems, smart lighting, asset tracking and positioning (e.g., electric bicycles and scooters), security and access control, gunshot detection systems and security kiosks. Some of these devices are served by ZigBee, Bluetooth and LoRa, while other devices and applications require Wi-Fi 6 APs and multi-gigabit switches to support high-density device environments and faster speeds. Examples include smart 4K TVs, projectors, AR/VR headsets and haptic feedback wearables. Further use cases can benefit from private LTE networks with additional quality of service, mobility, extended range and cellular coverage.
Looking beyond MDUs and education facilities, industrial verticals such as manufacturing plants illustrate the need for fast and reliable networks that offer unified management and ubiquitous connectivity for a wide range of business-critical equipment, applications and processes using a private LTE network. These include condition monitoring platforms, process optimization, robotic automation, forklifts, HD video cameras, ruggedized tablets and wearables such as head mounted displays (HMDs) with AR/VR capabilities. With Industry 4.0, multiple industry heavyweights are all building reconfigurable factories to support a new generation of wireless equipment that require multiple connectivity protocols, including 4G LTE and its evolution to 5G.
So, what’s next for wireless connectivity in the above-mentioned verticals and beyond? Well, cellular technologies are evolving beyond wide area 4G LTE networks to shared spectrum local 4G LTE such as the U.S. CRBS band (3.5GHz), which can be rolled out as private LTE networks locally in the enterprise. From our perspective, private LTE deployment in the enterprise is a definite game changer as the technology helps enable high quality of service, seamless mobility and bolstered range, while enabling optimization for local services, along with a high level of security for a slew of new applications.
Concurrently, 5G NR technology will enable wireline replacement and facilitate new use cases beyond LTE. These include URLLC (ultra-reliable low latency) for motion control and reconfigurable factory floors, as well as time synchronous network operation that can be tightly integrated with factory equipment. Moreover, 5G offers significantly higher bandwidth for wearables, 4K video and AR/VR applications, as well as support for massive IoT sensor networks.
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