Is your Enterprise's Wireless Network Ready for 5G?

Todd Landry, Corporate Vice President of Product and Market Strategy, JMA Wireless

Six Considerations for a Successful Digital Strategy

Enterprises are in a state of technical transformation. Buildings are becoming smarter, and people work is evolving. These transitions are due to several factors. First, today’s workforce has changed radically, with millennials representing the largest generation (56 million) in the U.S. workforce. Millennials are digital natives who demand robust wireless connectivity anywhere, anytime. Second, smartphone usage has exploded with 92 percent of these digital natives and 77 percent of all mobile subscribers using one. And, over 80 percent of all cellular minutes now occur in-building. Today’s wireless networks are not only connecting people, but things as well. IoT is becoming increasingly more entrenched into today’s enterprise. According to Gartner, these active connected devices equal 8.4 billion worldwide today, but will steadily grow to over 21 billion by the year 2020.

Wi-Fi networks are still needed to meet an enterprise’s wireless demands, especially for offload purposes. However, as data consumption continues to grow exponentially with Massive IoT, new applications and an increasing number of employees using their smartphones for in-building business communications, traditional Wi-Fi alone is not enough to meet these demands; therefore, CIOs must turn to cellular networks.

Tomorrow’s cellular networks will offer 5G, which will help support voracious wireless demand. This new generation of technology will enable many new use cases. So, the question becomes what must enterprise CIOs do today to ensure they are ready for 5G and the ever-increasing demands on their wireless networks? There are six key considerations that should be included today in any CIO’s wireless strategy.

1. Building a Proper Foundation

To unlock the level of intelligence and connectivity 5G promises, wireless infrastructure must support all areas of a smart enterprise. Wireless connectivity is now the fourth utility, which should be taken into consideration also at the time the complex environment is being architected. However, unlike water, electricity and gas, wireless technology is constantly changing; therefore, it is critical that the selected supplier has a path to transparently enable new technology for users.

2. Taking a 360-Degree Approach

After wireless connectivity has been incorporated into the initial smart enterprise plan, the technology vendor should provide a 360-degree approach regarding its utilization across the company. This approach can be divided into multiple levels as illustrated in Figure 1. The first level ensures wireless connectivity is that foundational utility ready to support 5G. The next level will deal directly with the IoT devices and sensors that will be used to collect and measure data enabled by 5G. The third level will concern device management and data aggregation before being sent to the cloud. The fourth level will transform this data into actionable insights, which a CIO can use to improve productivity and increase efficiency across the enterprise. The top level will consider the employees who will directly experience new enhanced ways to conduct business.

"Traditional Wi-Fi alone is not enough to meet these demands; therefore, CIOs must turn to cellular networks"

3. Designing for Wireless Success

As IoT becomes increasingly pervasive in a smart enterprise, edge RAN technology will enable new applications with mobile edge computing (MEC). To support these forthcoming applications, CIOs should be aware of how future technology in their building will migrate to this new edge topology. To ensure the best mobile performance with minimal employee impact, CIOs should understand where antennas need to be installed to optimize coverage yet still maintain aesthetics. In addition, when determining antenna placement, SINR or signal-to-interference-plus-noise ratio must be considered. Smart enterprises want to ensure good SINR with proper antenna placement, taking into account the level of interference.

Figure 1: To ensure optimal wireless connectivity, technology vendors should be involved at every level of the pyramid.

4. Supporting New Wireless Spectrum

With the advent of 5G, new spectrum, licensed and unlicensed, will become available. Today’s spectrum includes licensed bands in the 600 MHz to 2700 MHz range. However, this will change as mid-band spectrum, such as CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service), becomes available. It will include 150 MHz of spectrum that can be shared by all operators. And, by combining it with currently available spectrum, the average peak capacity can be dramatically increased to support 5G applications. The fiber plan, conduit, and powering for wireless equipment must be reviewed to ensure it does not have to change to accommodate new spectrums.

5. Managing New Sensors, New Layers

Smart enterprises must plan for the different service layers required to support the many new sensors, which will enable forthcoming 5G applications. Some sensors will require ultra-reliable low latency communication such as those used in robotics present on the manufacturing floor. Again, the fiber plan, conduit and powering for wireless equipment must be reviewed to ensure it does not have to change to support these new service layers.

6. Evolving to Software-Based Wireless Access

Wireless infrastructure is evolving to software access networks to combat the challenges associated with 5G, such as delivering mobile edge computing services, lowering latency for high performance sensors, and minimizing the footprint within a building to maximize revenue producing space. Today this required component is delivered via complex, space consuming, proprietary technology. However, newer enterprise systems are now being designed with a natural migration path to software-based systems that significantly reduce footprint, power requirements, cooling, and operate more like data center software than proprietary equipment.

5G Ready

A smart enterprise needs to keep pace with the changing needs presented by 5G. Taking these wireless network considerations into account today will help CIOs to ensure a smooth technology transition.