Corporate Wi-Fi Infrastructure: When is it Better without Wires

Once, Wi-Fi objectively occupied a subordinate, supporting role in the office IT infrastructure. Today, wireless digital communications are not inferior to wired for a number of key parameters: peak bandwidth, readiness to simultaneously support multiple virtual communication channels in one physical, highest resistance to unauthorized access attempts.

Corporate Wi-Fi is firmly established in the Russian realities and in some places is even ready to completely oust the usual Ethernet cable networks. How critical is the Wi-Fi infrastructure for Russian corporate customers? What are the benefits to customers and what challenges do integrators of wireless LAN segments in various enterprises throw to integrators? There are no universal answers to these questions – but certain trends in the domestic corporate Wi-Fi market can still be traced.

What does the Customer Expect?

Over the past ten years, corporate Wi-Fi has significantly evolved: from several Internet access points for employees and guests to the level of seamless coverage of the entire office, warehouse, and production premises; It has become the main way to connect to the corporate network, especially from devices that do not include RJ-45 ports: smartphones, tablets, and ultra-thin laptops.

“If only a few years ago, the fact of Wi-Fi was enough, and the most serious requirement was acceptable speed, now corporate customers want everything from Wi-Fi: high transmission speed, protection of transmitted data, stability of work, provision of services, BYOD support etc., ”says Nadezhda Pchelintseva, Director of Network and Telecommunications, Marvel-Distribution.

“The speed requirements have grown by two orders of magnitude,” confirms Dmitry Vostrikov, lead product manager at Tenda Rus. – Unfortunately, it is necessary to state: the wireless network has not become the main one, it is always auxiliary, it is over wired. There are many reasons for this, ranging from the desire to save money and use the cheapest solutions to unqualified planning and maintenance. ”

According to Alexey Shavaldin, Technical Director of OCS Distribution, the boom of basic deployment of wireless infrastructure with customers of the corporate sector has already passed; major investments are made. Adapting to new business needs is the key vector of change. A few years ago, a wireless network was, for the most part, a transport for accessing end-user devices to corporate resources, now it is a means of obtaining information about the business, about the client, and in some cases – the basis for making decisions about optimizing business processes.

The requirements for Wi-Fi networks are dictated by the specifics of the organization’s information perimeter, indicates Vyacheslav Logushev, director of IT services and outsourcing at X-Com. In particular, the wireless network must provide guaranteed access to data at a reasonable speed at any point, not interfere with the operation of other equipment, and also have sufficient protection from unauthorized customers connecting. Also, for the convenience of users, the network should support seamless roaming, and Wi-Fi equipment should provide seamless scaling, flexible configuration and remote administration.

Issues of information security are of great importance in the light of the widely spread BYOD concept. Convenient and secure access to corporate resources, including from wireless devices, provides today the solution of virtually all work tasks: interaction with corporate DBMS, taking orders from customers, processing and transferring them into production, production processes themselves, warehousing, etc. If the wireless network is not available – the company loses profit.

This explains the significant increase in wireless network reliability requirements, according to Yulia Andrianova, business development manager for Cisco corporate solutions: “According to a Cisco survey, 80% of large companies estimated the damage from corporate network downtime for one hour at $ 300,000 “.

However, according to Oleg Kim, head of the ELKO project distribution solutions department, Russian corporate customers mainly have two main requirements for Wi-Fi networks deployed at their enterprises: network capacity and coverage area.

Benefit in the air

When asked which customers in Russia today are willing to invest in Wi-Fi, Sergey Aksenov, an expert on networking solutions from Huawei Enterprise, answers from the opposite: “We are still not inclined to invest in security agencies, while almost all other industries are very positive. ” Most of all, it relies on wireless access to small and medium businesses, even despite the fact that such companies often do not have the opportunity to implement professional corporate solutions.

Yulia Andrianova agrees that corporate Wi-Fi networks are demanded by customers from completely different spheres: these are various industries, container terminals, airports, crowded places, stadiums, exhibition complexes, hotels. She points to retail, where the wireless network facilitates digitalization of warehouses and allows you to organize digital trading rooms.

Even those companies with increased requirements for information security, who still refuse to implement Wi-Fi, and in some cases, access to the Internet as a whole, need appropriate wireless equipment. Only in their case, Wi-Fi access points will be mounted not in order to provide employees with a connection, but to monitor possible violations of the wireless mode.

Wigel Antonov, Technical Director of TEGRUS, clarifies: “Most customers with large-scale IT infrastructures strive to make their wireless networks more manageable and to reduce troubleshooting time. The tendency to use corporate networks (both wireless and conventional) as a sensor, giving a complete picture of the connected devices and their types, as well as user activity, is becoming widespread. Such data allows you to optimize network performance and enhance the security of your IT infrastructure. ”

Depending on the organization’s business profile, the scale of networks, architecture and technologies for connecting various types of devices, including corporate and personal mobile gadgets, IP telephony, video conferencing, video surveillance cameras, barcode scanners, etc., vary. For offices, one specificity, warehouse and industrial premises – another, for the street – the third.

Significant investments of the company are being made today in their own networks for employees and guests, giving them preference over the publicly accessible infrastructure managed by external providers.

Alexey Usachev, Director of Projects at TP-Link in Russia, draws attention to the fact that Wi-Fi networks are getting smarter: “If a couple of years ago no one paid particular attention to seamless roaming, now in almost every TK you can see this item as compulsory with the standard 802.11ac. ” HoReCa customers are especially active in terms of investments in wireless business infrastructure since the availability of affordable and stable Wi-Fi is one of the most important conditions when choosing a hotel.

Expand without replacing?

802.11ac certified wireless equipment has provided a noticeable performance boost for the wireless LAN segment compared to 802.11n. The undoubted advantages of the newest 802.11ax standard include more precise channelization and the implementation of joint transmission algorithms, a general improvement in communication quality when serving a significant number of subscribers, as well as the implementation of OFDMA (Ortho Frequency Division Multiple Access) multiplexing technologies borrowed from cellular communication.

Dmitry Pleshakov, deputy technical director of IC TELECOM SERVICE, draws attention to the fact that 802.11ax, as in all previous Wi-Fi incarnations, is backward compatible with earlier versions: “What does this mean? The fact that as long as we do not replace the fleet of client equipment operating in the old standards, we should not expect any revolutionary increase in speed and quality of service, since access points will work in compatibility mode. ”

The real advantages of 802.11ax for users will be shown, according to Yulia Andrianova, only the experience of implemented projects: “Currently, the addition of ax to the 802.11 standard is not yet complete. What appears now will be a pre-standard, most likely without the possibility of a subsequent program transition to ah. The addition will be completed only in the second half of 2019. Some vendors, of course, are ahead of the curve – to solve marketing problems or to declare themselves a leader, but the standard gets more popular when new terminals appear that begin to force out the old ones.

Vigel Antonov clarifies that economically feasible migration to 802.11ax may be when large-scale connectivity is required for devices supporting this standard and for deploying applications that require such bandwidth from the wireless client. But it should be borne in mind that modern technologies are increasingly going to the clouds, so the processing and storage of data on the client side today requires minimal.

Fast migration to the standard ah can hardly be considered economically viable, unless it is about building a completely new network. Oleg Kim is sure that with a high density of clients, it makes sense to switch to 802.11ax and that all new networks will most likely be built on the basis of this standard: “Everything depends on the number of proposals from chipset suppliers, marketing”.

Nadezhda Pchelintsev is in solidarity with the fact that manufacturers of new gadgets and technologies (smartphones, laptops, tablets, elements of “smart” home, etc.) will necessarily generate the need for 802.11ax equipment from private consumers and corporate customers. The first to start investing in the transition to a new standard are companies that position themselves as innovative, but such a transition will be more an image step, rather than the realization of a really urgent need.

As Dmitry Vostrikov reminds, there are only two reasons for introducing new technologies in the business environment: a) this is necessary (since it is fashionable, relevant, it has a competitor); b) it is necessary for business: “I’m more than sure that in this case the efforts of marketers will not be in vain. The constant change of technology needed by modern industry for survival will continue. The new technology will be in demand, although, according to our estimates, at the moment the degree of its real need does not exceed 10-15%. ”

At the same time, according to Alexei Shavaldina, the introduction of 802.11x will be preceded by a rather long period of evaluation of its effectiveness and return on business from the investments.

“Mass rebuilding of networks on 802.11ax may not happen at all,” admits Alexey Usachev, “since the increase in speed will not be needed by the wide consumer. 90% of applications lack the current AC standard; streaming video fits into a small lane; surfing does not require tremendous speed; mail, games – everything fits even with a massive gathering of people in 4 × 4 MU-MIMO AC, technologies will rather focus on density, not speed. ” And with the availability of an available broadband cellular Wi-Fi channel, and in general, can lose relevance for ordinary users, since good mobile communication fully provides most of their needs.

“As long as marketing wins physics, people often believe figures that promise them tremendous speed through the air and that new standards will save Wi-Fi. I am sure that, realizing all the consequences of converting the network to the 802.11ax standard, they will not rush to it. The only effective way to migrate is the simultaneous appearance of client devices with the support of this standard, which in reality will not be soon, ”sums up Vyacheslav Logushev.

Intellectual coverage

Many customers today are faced with a simple wording, but requiring an uncommon solution to the problem: the need to extend the wireless coverage zone to a fairly vast area. The simple extenders that were widely used for this purpose are no longer required by serious Russian customers, since they are unprofitable from the point of view of radio design and are more suitable for home networks. Another solution to the same problem is the mesh technology, which, as Vigel Antonov specifies, one of the ranges uses for connecting users, and the second – for connecting access points to each other.

Oleg Kim agrees that extenders for corporate customers are not very popular, and testifies that basically mesh solutions are in demand. They are effective where you need to connect remote segments and users in places where cable laying is impossible, or it requires additional coordination and serious financial investments.

As Sergey Aksenov specifies, such solutions are applicable to corporate business, but here there is a specificity: “For example, one of our customers uses a mesh network in metallurgy, there are very high temperatures, there is no possibility to build a wired infrastructure, and wireless bridges solve this problem. In addition, the mesh is popular with retailers: it is often unprofitable for them to place access points in rented premises. Instead, they buy Wi-Fi access points and connect them using a wireless mesh channel. ”

Yulia Andrianova considers the use of mesh-solutions in the corporate environment as a necessary measure: “They are used in fields where some temporary work is carried out, for example, you need to organize a rescue operation or conduct an analysis for the extraction of mineral resources”.

The topic of specific applications of mesh networks is developed by Alexey Shavaldin: “Mesh is traditionally a street solution. In our opinion, it has a weak potential due to the increase in the performance of mobile networks. Nevertheless, there are scenarios in which this solution cannot be avoided, for example, the output of corporate Wi-Fi on the street, video surveillance, telemetry collection, temporary street solutions. In addition, mesh-solutions effectively manifest themselves in developments in quarries where it is necessary to provide communication between moving objects and a wired network. At the same time telemetry and geo-positioning are transmitted. ”

With the development and cheapening of technology, even in the home segment, where extenders are still popular, their niche very soon, in 2019, will be taken over by mesh devices, warns Alexey Usachev: ., and the mesh network is much more efficient than the extender. ”

Wireless Championship

One of the events that most influenced the Russian IT market in 2018 was the home FIFA World Cup. And the segment of wireless equipment of the 2018 World Cup, as evidenced by Yulia Andrianova, was reflected very well: “A new standard of expectations among fans has appeared on how mass events should take place. Before the championship, we actually had no Wi-Fi stadiums: the only example was the stadium in Krasnodar. ” When the stadium is filled with people, 3G, 4G mobile networks can no longer cope, then specially designed high-density Wi-Fi solutions provide a way out.

From this point of view, Nadezhda Pchelintseva stands in solidarity: in her opinion, the World Cup has added good success stories to the portfolio of some wireless vendors. Alexey Usachev also confirms: “We saw a noticeable surge in Wi-Fi settings for business from November 2017 to May 2018 in hotels.” The 2018 World Cup provided an incentive for hotels to think about upgrading their own wireless networks so that foreign guests could opt for them.

According to Vigel Antonov, thanks to the 2018 World Cup, the presence of a wireless network is considered by visitors to the stadiums as a familiar option. FIFA requirements for stadiums, which obligate them to have high-density Wi-Fi for fans, played their part here.

Another thing is that not all fans really enjoyed Wi-Fi: people came first to watch football.

“Service sellers and bookmakers should offer fans an interesting service model so that they want to connect to Wi-Fi during a match – from ordering drinks to the spot before voting for the best football player after each half or match,” said Sergey Aksenov. The question, therefore, rests on monetization and remains open. Equipping a stadium with a high-density Wi-Fi network requires serious investments, and site owners do not really understand how to get them back.

But according to Oleg Kim, the World Cup had no effect on the Russian Wi-Fi market: “Only if not to take into account the marketing value of brands”. Dmitry Vostrikov is also skeptical about this event: “It is hardly possible to say seriously that the examples of the implementation of Wi-Fi zones during the World Cup have opened up for potential customers of the service. In the words of a character from Pelevin’s book, “… at the Olympiad was cooler …”.

Non-network without an operator

Cellular 5G networks, with appropriate terminal equipment, are capable of providing unprecedented data exchange rates, minimal signal delay, extensive additional functionality that is valuable for business (native support for NB-IoT, for example). What, then, is it more profitable for the customer to deploy a wireless Wi-Fi 802.11ax network compared to, say, installing 5G femto cells, covering the same area, and also providing data gateways to the operator’s network “for free”?

As Yulia Andrianova explains, 5G is an operator technology, which implies licensing of the frequencies used, and therefore is already expensive. Wi-Fi is used without an operator’s license and does not require notification of supervisory authorities.

“A corporate customer is used to managing his network assets, he expects predictability from his network, the rules for which he sets himself,” Alexey Shavaldin develops the theme. “Therefore, 5G will not serve as a replacement for classic corporate Wi-Fi, at least in the near future, despite its very good technical capabilities.”

Femtocells make sense at remote sites, Oleg Kim specifies, but the customer will still build a Wi-Fi network in the premises: this is safer, since all traffic will remain inside this network. Nadezhda Pchelintseva stands in solidarity with him: “The 4G and 802.11ac protocols are now coexisting, each for solving their problems, almost without competition. When both standards “grow”, then, in my opinion, this ratio will not change much. ”

Sergey Aksenov indicates that there is a huge number of solutions for the synergy of two wireless access technologies – cellular and Wi-Fi. In access points, there are sometimes specialized ports to which femto cells can be connected, which, in turn, connect to the provider cloud and begin to act as base mini-stations, improving the quality of coverage. In addition, equipment, including mobile terminals, is able to seamlessly switch from one technology to another. Unfortunately, femtocells are not widely used in Russia, but this is a question for operators and regulatory bodies.

The owners of public Wi-Fi networks (shopping and entertainment centers, museums, airports, stadiums and other institutions) can use them to collect analytical data, transfer advertising content and realize other opportunities for additional monetization, Wiegel Antonov notes. Operators of the same 5G networks will not have a part of the inherent Wi-Fi functionality.

And Dmitry Vostrikov does call for sharing marketing, dreams and reality: “It’s going to take a long time before the 5G networks are introduced, and even more for universal use. The equipment is presented, pilot zones are organized, but this technology, despite its capacity and speed, is not supported by an economic component, even Ilon Musk will not believe in the payback period. Neither the consumer nor the operator does not know how to use the bestowed happiness, and therefore, the model of service provision will not change either. The cost of ownership continues to be directly dependent on the tariff policy of the operator. ”

“First of all, a sufficient number of devices and equipment operating in 5G networks should appear on the market,” Vyacheslav Logushev expresses his joint position. – In the meantime, these are only single samples on which operators test the technology. In addition, in my opinion, cellular communication can work stably only after the implementation of a single Internet like Oneweb or Starlink. In the meantime, there are significant delays in the networks of cellular operators, which does not allow them to solve all the tasks of modern business. Today, companies prefer to combine the use of channels of cellular operators in corporate Wi-Fi-networks. ”

Implementation problems

The main problem when deploying Wi-Fi in an urban environment is, according to Dmitry Pleshakov, a significant number of existing wireless networks. This raises a number of specific problems, including the interference of signals and the difficulty of filtering out “their” data packets from those that are broadcast in the same frequency band by “foreign” networks. That is why the main problem to be solved when designing a network is the selection of a free frequency range. This task is helped to solve radio frequency surveys that need to be carried out before introducing a wireless solution.

The Wi-Fi network is extremely demanding on the design and implementation stages, Dmitry Pleshakov urges to remember: for all possible flaws, it will perform its functions. The implementation of the wireless network requires special skills of specialists and specific equipment complexes, which will allow competently perform design work and assess the quality of installation, as well as solve specific problems arising during network maintenance. ”

Julia Andrianova confirms that the wireless network requires special study; first of all in the radio design. Each room has its own layout, walls, metal structures, uneven ceilings, interference from neighboring offices – all this will affect the operation of the wireless network.

Begin to study radio design should be with the formulation of network requirements. How many customers and what type is expected in view of the stock for the future? What type of traffic will dominate the network, will voice applications and video be actively used? What data transfer speeds are needed now and with a multi-year perspective? Which endpoints should I take into account which Wi-Fi standard? This is important because, for example, to ensure reliable coverage in the 5 GHz band, access points will have to be installed more often than for 2.4 GHz.

Radio design is followed by a radio survey, which is often carried out at the “concrete” stage in a newly rebuilt building, in order to separate all cables during finishing work properly. Radio testing implies a practical test with a laptop and special software of how this particular access point is “heard” at the intended place for it, including in the return channel – when transmitting data from the terminal devices to it.

And only then comes the stage of direct radio planning, after which it becomes clear where the access points will be installed and of what type, with which antennas. When installing the equipment, it is important that the cable is laid to each point with a margin, because sometimes the final appearance of the premises does not fit the plan and the access points have to be moved. Sometimes designers (not  radio designers) take over the engineers in the planning of office space, and then the point can be mounted on metal structures somewhere under the ceiling, with antennas turned up or embedded in a beautiful table made of natural stone. And live with this then users and IT professionals.

Alexey Shavaldin considers it an important task to constantly be aware of the customer’s construction plans, when the latter plans to erect a partition, protect the room with a reinforced perimeter, or simply change the layout of the internal volumes of the building overnight.

Modern corporate access points allow you to successfully solve roaming issues, in particular with the rapid movement of a Wi-Fi-equipped vehicle through the territory of a huge warehouse. And this is not the most difficult case: for example, it is much more difficult to provide an external channel via Wi-Fi in a high-speed train that moves at a speed of more than 200 km / h. “In the past two years, from the customer’s side, there have been requests for providing quality coverage in warehouses and production facilities, where employees used to perform operations, and now robots. If in the first case Wi-Fi was required at an altitude of about one and a half meters, the robot can climb up to 10 meters, and the old networks are not designed for it, so you need to ensure communication at all this distance from the ground, and these difficulties also need to be taken into account ”, – adds Sergey Aksenov.

According to Vigel Antonov, stable communication of mobile Wi-Fi users can be ensured primarily through competent network design, the use of various access points with directional and omnidirectional antennas, as well as technologies for building seamless roaming, such as 802.11r, 802.11k and 802.11 v. And Dmitry Vostrikov reminds that when building distributed wireless networks on large-sized objects, another problem often arises, namely an uneven and changing coverage area: “How to deal with it? Design with a reserve, leave reserves, provide mobility. ”

Limitations and perspectives

Alexey Usachev draws attention to such promising areas of wireless networking applications in business as Wi-Fi analytics: counting visitors, researching their behavior and reactions, for example, on advertising, as well as the subsequent conversion of ad impressions into store traffic. Retail is increasingly introducing new technologies in order to better understand the customer, to anticipate his needs and behavior, including based on data that the mobile phone is in his pocket.

“Recently there has been a sufficient number of requests related to the automation of warehouse premises and sites,” Alexey Shavaldin shares his observations. – In the zone of stable demand for corporate Wi-Fi, retailers and developers of large retail facilities will remain. As for video surveillance systems, I think the palm will still belong to the cable infrastructure, except for the implementation projects of “informative” video surveillance, aimed more at collecting analytical data than directly at the task of technical protection of objects.

According to Vyacheslav Logushev, the most serious limitations of Wi-Fi networks are due to their very wireless essence. It makes it necessary to pay increased attention to information security issues, dictates the complexity of ensuring stable radio coverage and, accordingly, more complex integration compared to cable networks: “Some of these problems will help level the 802.11ax standard, but, as often happens, solving some problems may cause new ones.”

Dmitry Vostrikov agrees that the introduction of the 802.1ax standard will improve the quantitative characteristics of wireless networks: “However, in order to significantly improve the availability, stability and reliability in comparison with the wired communications of a modern office, many more steps need to be taken.” The next such step is 802.11ax, but it is far from the last.

And Vigel Antonov draws attention to the fact that wireless and wired methods for connecting end devices have several different applications and their advantages and disadvantages. The key advantage of wireless technologies – mobility, wired – stability: “Given the characteristics of wired and wireless technologies, the prospects for the Russian market for commercial Wi-Fi networks are the same as for cable networks. But the main thing is that Wi-Fi networks have long ceased to be a desirable additional option and have become an everyday necessity. ”

Sergey Aksyonov calls to wait for the appearance of the WPA3 standard and its widespread implementation, which will take the next three to four years: trustworthy. As for commercial prospects, this is rather a question for telecom operators, but, in my opinion, the prospects are not very good: with the development of 5G, commercial street Wi-Fi technology will decline. In addition, today the trend towards network virtualization is clearly visible: it will soon be indifferent to which channel the connection goes through. A common access environment will appear, and all issues of demarcation, policies, identification, etc. will be assigned to processors and mobile device software. ”

Yulia Andrianova assesses the prospects for the Russian market of commercial Wi-Fi networks as bright: “There are so many interesting projects: wireless networks in the public segment, in public premises (medical conferences, exhibition complexes, event locations) have great potential. Wi-Fi appears in the subway, buses and trains. An interesting model of work is being introduced – to provide Wi-Fi for free, build a network, and then monetize big data, that is, the collected statistics about people using the network. ”

One of the popular applications of Wi-Fi is indoor navigation, especially in public areas, in exhibition or trade halls. It becomes important to provide people with a convenient experience: organizers of mass events want visitors to easily navigate through space. For them, they make an uncomplicated application that allows them to find the necessary points, to perform some operations online, for example, to register and, as they move, to receive contextual information.

“The further, the more stable will be the trend of transferring all subscriber devices to the wireless format,” Nadezhda Pchelintseva is sure, “therefore the prospects for the Russian Wi-Fi market are very, very positive. Inside buildings, the lack of wires is more than the usual situation, since Wi-Fi allows you to transfer huge amounts of data. Maybe someday we will live in a world without wires. Nevertheless, cable networks today are not efficiently replaced in order to ensure reliable transmission of critical data between buildings, nodes, centers. ”

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