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5 enterprise wireless industry trends to track in 2020

Yes, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will continue to grab headlines. But other ongoing wireless industry trends include problematic devices and heavy-handed licensing by vendors.

The wireless networking industry is constantly evolving. From the Federal Communications Commission's rules that frame wireless activities in the United States to the endless stream of new client devices, wireless industry trends are often in the spotlight.

With a new year upon us, everyone from industry analysts to IT directors are contemplating the important emerging trends in wireless networking technology. I just happen to be in the thick of the wireless world. As a full-time network practitioner and busy freelance analyst, I offer up five wireless industry trends we'll see in the new year.

Here are the more significant developments coming our way in 2020:

  1. Big transition year. With 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3), new wireless LAN (WLAN) frequencies expected and several other developments on the way, 2020 will absolutely be a year of transition for wireless networking. We'll start the new year with the same hype and buzz we heard in 2019, but by year's end, we'll see more Wi-Fi 6 deployments and devices. WPA3's viability as a new WLAN security standard will be proven -- or disproven -- and 5G's true grand-scale production rollout timeline will become clearer.
  2. Bad clients. Unfortunately, we won't see much relief from problematic WLAN devices. Consumer-grade devices will be dragged into the enterprise, where rules will need to be broken to accommodate them. Additionally, more and more IoT devices, such as building controls, will be made wireless without being made right for secure enterprise networks. It is what it is.
  3. Vendors could potentially shortchange network monitoring system development and assume everyone is a programmer now.
    Super systems, heavy licensing. At the risk of sounding like a total downer, this is another trend that marketers spin as a positive while networking pros cringe. We're sailing deeper into waters where the operational paradigm feels like enterprise networks rent what we also bought, given the license-happy nature of some leading architectures. The vendors get recurring revenue, and we get the same software updates that we always have at a higher total cost of ownership. Plus, we pay for access to tech support. It's maddening and only getting worse.
  4. API vs. network monitoring system. Go to any wireless networking conference, and you'll hear presentations and conversations about the power of the API and how you can use it with tools such as Python on almost any newer system. While many of us are smitten with automating different configuration and monitoring tasks, the network monitoring system (NMS) isn't going anywhere. What's the danger in this duality? Vendors could potentially shortchange NMS development and assume everyone is a programmer now. It'll be interesting to see how this trend plays out in the next 12 months.
  5. Down-market services getting more advanced -- and interesting. Not every environment will embrace the heavily licensed and AI-fueled journey that leading vendors take us on. Thankfully, the "lesser" alternatives are gaining capabilities while keeping costs down and maintaining ease of use. Fortinet, for example, is one vendor that keeps WLAN and LAN systems generally free of licensing uncertainty. Meanwhile, Ubiquiti represents the vendors that have figured out how to offer effective and affordable full-stack networking and use case models that aren't smothering. It's good to have choices.

From the trenches as a network practitioner, these are the wireless industry trends I foresee for 2020. Happy New Year to all.

This was last published in December 2019

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