Assessing Enterprise Wireless Networks: A Reality Check

Today’s enterprise faces a dizzying array of wireless infrastructure options for managing important business operations. Considering factors such as business need, location, security requirements, and expansion plans, organizations can opt for Wi-Fi, public cellular, or private cellular wireless networks—or select any combination of these to address their needs. Yet, properly selecting the appropriate infrastructure has become a hot topic for many businesses. There are, of course, a variety of opinions for approaching this issue, but there are also facts that enterprises can use to determine the best path forward.

The Reality of Wi-Fi 

Most businesses have established Wi-Fi networks, and for office-oriented functions, like email, web searches, and downloading documents, it works perfectly fine. However, in more industrial settings and expansive areas such as warehouses, factories, seaports, airports, and farms, Wi-Fi is less than ideal. Metal buildings and rows of storage racks and containers are not exactly Wi-Fi friendly, making it complicated and costly to achieve reliable coverage. In such challenging environments, Wi-Fi coverage can necessitate many additional access points—each requiring a fiber or cable connection that can be costly, and sometimes impractical. Wi-Fi networks have proven to be more vulnerable to cyberattacks than cellular networks. Wi-Fi does not offer the seamless coverage that cellular does, and its limited transmit power requires massive amounts of access points to generate coverage outdoors. And, with Wi-Fi’s limited traffic management capabilities, it is likely that typical office use and applications can impact bandwidth availability and latency that can be crucial to the emerging video, AI, and AR/VR/XR applications that are essential to industrial environments. Wi-Fi is a trusted and reliable infrastructure, but it is not well-suited for all use cases.

The Reality of Public Cellular Networks

The large carriers have done a superb job building up their networks to ensure that subscribers can access the information, social and communal applications, and entertainment services they crave from any location. LTE networks are highly reliable, and the public 5G networks are steadily rolling out. But bear in mind these are public networks, and are engineered for consumption, not performance. Telcos make their money on the services consumers download to their device—TikTok videos, social media, streaming, and the like. Downstream speeds are essential to the success of carriers. Uplinks? Not so much. Enterprises that require strong uplink capabilities for essential operations will be less than thrilled with the comparatively poor speeds available through public networks. There is little an enterprise can do in this scenario—data speeds are what they are, and enterprises that rely on the ability to send large files quickly and reliably would probably be happier with another infrastructure.

The Reality of Private Cellular Networks

Enterprises—especially those that run large facilities like warehouses, factories, farms, and ports—should look at this mode of transport. Private cellular networks enable organizations to deliver seamless coverage throughout the facility—both indoors and outside—and regardless of building composition or the presence of equipment, racks, or containers. Downlink and uplink speeds are managed by the enterprise, ensuring that performance is always optimized, and the inherent security of cellular is vastly superior to Wi-Fi. In addition, private cellular networks are cost-effective for future-proofing by enabling coverage expansion via access points that can cover up to four times more area than Wi-Fi, and the cellular mesh capabilities mitigate the need for a backhaul infrastructure, adding further efficiencies. For those organizations looking to improve coverage away from office settings, private cellular’s local control, security, and coverage advantages should make it the right fit.

Conclusion

Not all wireless networks are created equally. Some perform better in office scenarios, while others are optimized in more industrial settings. Enterprises that rely on wireless connectivity to achieve business outcomes should not only evaluate each infrastructure’s capabilities, but also its idiosyncrasies. Wi-Fi, public cellular, and private cellular each have strengths and shortcomings, and it’s more than possible that discerning businesses may want to leverage at least two infrastructures to address their needs. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s up to the enterprise to evaluate the characteristics and economics of wireless networks, and determine which is the best path forward to suit their needs.

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