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Leveraging Wireless Broadband Connectivity for a Mobile Workforce

Business at the Speed of Wireless: Leveraging Broadband Connectivity for a Mobile Workforce

 

Broadband Technology

Broadband connectivity for the enterprise, in technical terms, means high-speed Ethernet and Internet Protocol (IP) connections between computers and networking devices both within the enterprise, or to the Internet cloud. Broadband connectivity allows greater workforce productivity and workflow management by having all computing assets connected on a common, shared network. Wireless broadband connectivity further enhances enterprise workforce productivity in ways that wired connections do not.

Why is broadband important? Broadband technology enables high-speed data communications between devices and enterprise resources. Data is the lifeblood of any enterprise. Data is information about the customers, marketplace, competitors, internal operations, and company financial metrics that all support critical decision-making to make the enterprise successful. Workers throughout the enterprise are involved with creating, sharing, transferring, storing, and accessing data – from internal resources or over the Internet.

Several wireless technologies can enable enterprise workforce productivity: wireless local area network (WLAN), both indoor and outdoor; point-to-point (PTP) microwave systems for connectivity and leased line replacement; point-to-multipoint (PTMP) for extended network coverage; and indoor distributed antenna system (iDAS) for enhanced cellular coverage and Public Safety.

In the early days of enterprise computing, local area networks (LANs) connected desktop computers and workstations with other computing resources such as printers or data storage devices over a common bus infrastructure that supported Ethernet packet data communications protocol. In those days, the fastest data transfer rates typically were at millions of bits or megabits per second (Mbps) speeds. LANs now operate at billions of bits or gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds.

Today, computing devices connected to the LAN no longer need to be tethered through a physical connection. Mobile devices can connect wirelessly via access points that plug into the LAN, thus giving way to WLANs. Switches that are part of the WLAN direct traffic between WLAN-connected devices and remote enterprise data centers, or the Internet via routers.

Wi-Fi offers a viable, cost-effective extension to WLAN operation with high-speed connections to laptops and smartphones throughout a facility or campus. Though limited to the coverage area, Wi-Fi operation allows for device portability so that workers can access the enterprise network while in common areas where people congregate, in conference rooms, corridors, lobbies, or other high-traffic areas.

More important, wireless connectivity no longer is confined to indoor applications. Indoor Wi-Fi access points can be deployed in outside areas using purpose-built enclosures that include an antenna, grounding, and Power over Ethernet (PoE) connections. Even with outdoor connections, traffic between devices stays on the WLAN while Internet- related traffic is sent via switches to the data center, then routed over the Internet.

Wi-Fi is fast becoming the technology of choice for cellular data offload from public networks. An enterprise worker coming into the WLAN from outside can resume a data session over a Wi-Fi connection on the WLAN, thereby off-loading that session from the public cellular network. This is not to suggest a handoff capability between the public network and the enterprise WLAN. Rather, an active Internet connection on the cellular network quickly can be restored once WLAN connectivity is established.

Within an expansive multi-building facility or campus, the WLAN can be extended using fiber optic or Ethernet cables between buildings. If installing cable is neither feasible nor cost effective even over short distances, an alternative is a short-haul, high-capacity PTP microwave hop. Available systems can transport up to one (1) Gbps at distances of one (1) mile or less in licensed 60 GHz or unlicensed 80 GHz frequency bands. For longer distances and lower throughputs, licensed and unlicensed micro- wave systems in 6, 11, 18 and 23 GHz bands can be adapted to the application. These types of microwave systems have built-in redundancy and the ability to scale throughput – ensuring reliable network operation for the enterprise. More important, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of PTP microwave systems in many cases, can produce a positive return on investment (ROI) compared to leasing cables between buildings or connecting to the outside public network.

PTMP broadband radio systems provide connections to multiple locations over a wide area such as in a multi-building industrial complex or campus application. Broadband radio systems operating at 2.4, 3.65 and 5.0 GHz bands connect a hub to multiple remote units or subscriber units (SUs) using either a symmetrical or asymmetrical transmission scheme. Devices and Wi-Fi access points at the remote location can connect to the SU with an Ethernet cable. All data traffic from the SUs is aggregated at the hub for connection to the enterprise data center via fiber optic or copper cables or a PTP microwave system.

iDAS is a recent development that enhances wireless coverage by bringing cellular signals from the outside indoors. An iDAS comprises a head-end that receives a signal from a nearby cell site or from a co-located carrier base transceiver station (BTS). Radio frequency (RF) signals are converted to optical and are transmitted to remote units that are located on different levels in the building. At the remote units, the optical signals are converted back to RF and delivered over coaxial cable to a series of indoor antennas that are strategically placed in office areas, conference rooms, lobbies, common areas, and parking garages. An iDAS can support multiple cellular signals for workers who sub- scribe to different carriers, and can include VHF and UHF frequencies that are used by first-responders for improved communications inside buildings during fire, police and medical emergencies.

In the end, the selection of the appropriate wireless broadband technology for the enterprise is dependent upon the facilities being covered, the number of people working in these facilities, and how these workers use wireless to enable their workflow and productivity. 

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