Seven ways in which the changing workplace is impacting Wi-Fi networks

Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous in daily life and most employees never give it a second thought. They simply expect the network to be available, fast, stable, consistent, and secure, whether they are at their own desk in the office, roaming around the workspace, or participating in a video conference or face-to-face meeting. And, with the added dimension of bring your own device (BYOD) schemes, employees also expect the Wi-Fi network to be equally accessible to all platforms and device types.

Amit Rao, director – APAC channels, NETSCOUT, said, “While employees have their own expectations, organisations need the corporate network to support and enable their business aims, letting employees make the most of their skills and experience and, above all, supporting them to get their work done.

“More than that, it needs to be able to protect sensitive data on customers, prospects, employees and intellectual property, and provide seamless, secure connectivity.”

Seven ways the changing workplace is impacting Wi-Fi networks

1. Employee expectations

The consumer experience of sitting in cafes and other public hotspots has taught employees to expect seamless, ‘go anywhere’ networking. Yet, while the occasional slow patch or drop-off might be acceptable in a crowded cafe or at a railway station or airport, they are major irritants and obstacles in the workplace. The corporate Wi-Fi network needs to be faster, better, more reliable, more secure, more consistent and more robust than a public Wi-Fi hotspot, and failure to provide these superior levels of service may turn the workplace into a ‘notspot’ for employees.

2. BYOD and different devices

BYOD schemes are a further consideration in wireless site design. BYOD lets staff work more flexibly, intuitively and productively from their preferred platforms and devices, while minimising the organisation’s capital expenditure and the constant upgrade cycle of fast-depreciating hardware and software. However, upfront planning and design are essential for successfully integrating different types of devices with the corporate WLAN, which also demands real insight into Wi-Fi capacity and coverage. Understanding the devices themselves is equally important. Overall, organisations need to be in the driving seat of this more employee-centric view of communications and IT.

3. Wi-Fi trends

More and more workplaces solely offer Wi-Fi access. However, all Wi-Fi networks still end in a wire. This last and least visible part of the network is, traditionally, the least well served by many network monitoring and management tools. That, too, is a challenge for IT professionals, who need access to dedicated, expert tools and to follow professional best practices.

The trend towards Wi-Fi-only access will likely continue, now that the 802.11ac high-speed networking standard offers multi-station connectivity at data transfer speeds of up to one gigabit per second. The standard is gaining traction in many workplaces, where data volumes and speeds can only rise in the years ahead. But faster access and throughput also means the risk of faster and more extensive data breaches if IT professionals and network engineers fail to consider the full security implications of unmonitored access.

4. New application types

The rise of free services, such as Skype, and of affordable unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) applications and platforms, demands fast, reliable networking for data, voice, video, social and ‘shared space’ functions. Such UC&C tools are increasingly popular, and help organisations save costs, collapse distance, unlock skills, and create a more cohesive environment for geographically-dispersed team members.

Other application types are on the rise, too, including cloud-based enterprise suites and dashboards, big data analytics, and applications associated with smart environments and the Internet of Things. This means that organisations need to design wireless sites to cope with a significant ramping-up of data volumes, speeds and throughput in the future.

5. Quality of Service (QoS)

Another challenge is the increased network complexity needed in order to provide end-to-end QoS in UC&C, so that real-time apps can be merged with data applications: a tough call in an era of multiple wide-area carriers and peering agreements. Failure to address these needs, and to incorporate them upfront in world-class wireless site design, could have costly, embarrassing consequences. These could include conferencing sessions that don’t work, poor connections, jittery service and other problems that may cause a loss of confidence in the organisation.

6. The physical office

The built environment can be complex, challenging, and full of obstacles and signal blockers such as thick walls, mirrors, metal surfaces, complex electrics, kitchen areas, legacy installations or rogue access points. While some businesses are in a standalone premises dedicated to a single organisation, most share a building. Security in a shared premises full of other organisations, visitors, customers and prospects is not as simple as just setting a password and hoping for the best. The corporate network has to be designed for the real world, and not just the virtual one.  

7. Temporary networks

A world-class network is not always built to be permanent. For example, major conferences, functions, and trade shows are expensive, high-profile events, often with millions of dollars of business at stake, not to mention corporate reputations. Today, such events stand or fall on the quality, accessibility, speed, reliability, and security of the wireless network.

Amit Rao said, “All of this demands that the organisation has real insight into how the wireless network is performing from day to day, as well as how best it can be designed in the first place. It should be designed not only for today’s capacity but also for future workloads, including UC&C tools, rich media, big data, the Internet of Things and in-depth analytics.”

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