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How next-generation standards are reshaping wireless WAN technologies

Learn how the latest next-generation standards are reshaping enterprise wireless WAN technologies and how these telecom services can enhance your company's mobile strategy.

How are next-generation standards reshaping enterprise wireless WAN technologies and how will these telecom services enhance your company's network services? Find out in this article.

Every wireless provider is proudly touting its next-generation network. Most claim to offer 4G services, and many are promoting so-called “small-cell” technology: micro, femto and picocells.

What does it all mean? And more importantly, for IT managers attempting to make sense of the alphabet soup of wireless specifications, why does any of this matter?


Next generation standards for wireless WAN technologies

First, here is a quick run-through of what next-generation standards service providers are offering. So-called 4G services do the following:

  • Provide roughly 1 Gbps data transfer.
  • Are mobile (versus fixed), meaning that they support mobile users, rather than provide point-to-point wireless connectivity.
  • Are based entirely on IP (versus a mix of IP and circuit switching).
  • Natively support both voice and data services (including video), meaning that they can handle transmission of voice, video and data at the same time.

Services that don’t meet these qualifications, technically speaking, aren’t 4G services. What the 4G moniker doesn’t define is the technology that these services are delivered across—so carriers are offering a slew of services ranging from Wi-Fi to long term evolution (LTE) under the 4G umbrella. And here’s the thing: From an IT manager’s perspective, it doesn’t make much difference. The salient point here is that carriers are rolling out high-speed, multimedia, mobile services that will ultimately become a part of wireless WAN technology services.

The discussion of micro, femto, and picocells is equally irrelevant, from a network manager’s perspective. The challenge to carriers is how to ensure that multiple users can share a single base station without congestion. The solution is to add more base stations—or more precisely—create a network that’s densely populated with base stations, with each base station handling a decreasingly small geography. Femtocells are smaller than microcells, and picocells are smallest of all. And they can be deployed inside buildings, ensuring end-to-end coverage. One open question is who does the deploying: enterprise IT directors, carriers or other third parties? Carriers are just beginning to recognize the market potential of rolling out small cells as part of a managed services offering.

Importantly, the size of the base station says nothing about the technology it delivers. Micro, femto, and picocells can all be used with a range of technologies, from GSM to UMTS to WiMax.


How these next-generation standards affect wireless WAN technologies

Why does any of this matter? From an IT perspective, the critical point is that carriers are beginning to roll out next-generation wireless services that rival wireline LAN and WAN services—and include management as part of the package. That means, for example, that within a year or two, an IT manager might ask a carrier to provide a managed branch office solution that relies entirely on femtocells and LTE—and doesn’t require any LAN cabling or switching gear whatsoever.

Why do this? Because in some cases, wireless services can actually be cheaper and more reliable than their landline counterparts. Nemertes estimates that companies can save roughly $2,500 in installation costs, and $2,500 per year in ongoing maintenance, for wireless branch offices—with similar or superior performance.

But carriers aren’t there yet. Although players like Verizon have begun to roll out LTE services, carriers overall haven’t yet begun delivering managed small-cell services, although we expect they will in years to come. This means IT managers need to think strategically when it comes to planning for the eventual availability of these wireless WAN technologies. Specific action items include the following:

  • Plan for wireless, rather than wireline, to become the default connectivity type.
  • Negotiate contracts with carriers that cover multiple services, including wireless WAN connectivity for all types of computing devices.
  • Make sure application developers consider wireless users in current and future generations of applications, since wireless services tend to have relatively higher latency and lower bandwidth than their wired counterparts, which can affect application performance.

The bottom line? Regardless of what they’re called, high-speed, IP-based, voice-and-data wireless services are arriving—and they’ll fundamentally change how users connect to the WAN.

This was last published in May 2011

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