It’s hard to imagine a modern enterprise that doesn’t have ubiquitous wireless access. Once upon a time it was normal to have reams of cables connecting every device to every other. These days it’s just the opposite. We have more devices than ever before — desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones — and they’re all wireless.
Wi-Fi has been an integral part of enterprise networks for over 20 years. What was, back in the day, a nice-to-have feature has become a must-have for all enterprises, irrespective of scale or sector.
Obviously, Wi-Fi has improved by leaps and bounds, going from its humble beginnings to worldwide domination, with market values estimated to break USD25 billion by 2026. The earliest instances of Wi-Fi supported speeds of up to 11 Mbps. Now, speeds anywhere from 400 to 600 Mbps are commonplace, and Wi-Fi is used to connect a far broader and more sophisticated range of devices that rely on powerful, reliable wireless communications.
This evolution has far from run its course. On the contrary, Moore’s law practically guarantees that the rate of improvement will only continue to increase. On the horizon are the endless possibilities promised by machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). The Internet of Things (IoT), with devices communicating with other devices, is just around the corner, and the digital transformation of enterprises has never been more relevant to business success.
The future of networks themselves is equally exciting. The pandemic accelerated the existing trend towards a decentralized, distributed network. The infinite enterprise — the enterprise of the future — will be an infinitely distributed, consumer-centric network that operates at scale. And new innovations in Wi-Fi, such as Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, will play a crucial role in this transformation.
The change is already happening all around us, and there’s more to come. Is your network ready?
The ubiquity of Wi-Fi has created expectations for it that it was never meant to meet. It’s become the lynchpin of the modern enterprise and demands on Wi-Fi have only increased post-pandemic. At least previously, usage was centered around one geographical location. But with remote and hybrid work having become a basic reality of the modern workforce, many enterprises have had to shift to cloud-based networking to support operations. The ability of employees to work seamlessly from anywhere is now considered essential to maintaining business continuity.
But the high-bandwidth applications these employees rely on can easily overwhelm Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5 networks. While this is partially related to throughput, the major issue here is simply network traffic. If you imagine an enterprise Wi-Fi network as a highway, and these cloud-based operations as cars, then the simple fact is that there are too many cars for the highway, which creates gridlock. Raising the speed limit on the highway isn’t going to get the traffic jam cleared any faster.
This distributed network reality has been exacerbated by the explosion of mobile devices in use. While most, if not all, are capable of cellular access, most mobile users will hop onto a Wi-Fi network if one is available. If you consider the fact that every employee that was previously connecting with one device (a desktop computer or laptop) is now connecting with two, you’ve just doubled the amount of traffic a typical enterprise network needs to manage.
This has also added strain on already struggling IT departments. Not only do they need to support all these devices and keep the network running smoothly, but network security risks have suddenly multiplied as well.
The demand on and expectations of enterprise wireless networks will continue to increase over time as devices become more powerful and organizational needs change.
While some employees have started to come back to the office, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone will. Many enterprises will find it much more advantageous to have hybrid or even permanent remote positions. This provides access to a much broader geographic range to recruit from but creates networking challenges. Remote employees will need to be just as connected as their in-office counterparts to be productive, and as the geographies of the enterprise change over time, so too will its networking needs in given areas. Network flexibility will be critical.
While this is happening, demand and user expectations will be increasing. The trend now is for users to have more devices, not less, and to be able to switch between them on the fly. Going from a phone call to sending emails on a smartphone to taking video calls on a laptop is perfectly normal, and that level of interoperability is going to increase, not decrease. At the same time, each of these devices will be getting more powerful, as will the applications they’re running, thereby putting a greater strain on the network.
Finally, a whole new class of user is coming. Entirely new demands from ML algorithms and AI will only add to the growing strain on enterprise networks. These technologies and the devices that use them will unlock powerful new tools for enterprises to use to improve operations and find new revenue streams. But they will require equally powerful infrastructure to implement.
Wi-Fi 6 and 6E aren’t simply a step forward for Wi-Fi but a leap. They’re the first Wi-Fi standards to operate in the 6 GHz band, and when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened that band up for unlicensed use, it made 1,200 MHz of bandwidth available: that’s more than double what was already available from the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands combined. This new wireless superhighway enables enterprises to clear out their gridlock and ensure that it’s dealt with for years to come.
The new standards also come with powerful technology to improve the efficiency of your network. The built-in multi-user technology (MU-MIMO) improves the efficiency of distributed networks by simultaneously transmitting unique data streams to multiple clients, rather than partitioning the frequency space. This increases network efficiency by reducing airtime use.
With greater capacity and greater speed — Wi-Fi 6 is three times faster and has 50% more channels than Wi-Fi 5 — enterprises can successfully manage ever-greater numbers of more powerful devices.
Of course, with more devices come more security risks. But Wi-Fi 6 comes with mandatory Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) 3-personal and WPA3-enterprise certification. This ensures that Wi-Fi 6/6E solutions provide security even when user authentication is not required — a must for any enterprise offering an open Wi-Fi network for guests or customers. Unsurprisingly, this certification also provides stronger encryption to protect ever-increasing volumes of business-critical data.
All these innovations pair neatly with cloud-managed networks, enabling IT teams to manage the distributed network of an infinite enterprise with ease. Extreme’s cloud-managed networks incorporate ML and AI, enabling enterprises to improve the bottom line by: