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Technologies that will Change Networking

The networking field is changing fast. This year, several emerging technologies will fundamentally impact how businesses and their employees connect. The good news is that each technology also represents a solid opportunity to improve some aspect of how a company runs – from network efficiency all the way up to business models.

Wi-Fi 6

The Win: Wireless Density
The Winners: Office networking, IoT
When: Prep and first rollout in 2019, broad adoption in 2020

Wi-Fi 6, also called 802.11ax, is an upgrade on the current highest-speed Wi-Fi protocol in wide use, 802.11ac. Wi-Fi 6 brings a dramatic improvement in efficiency across all existing Wi-Fi bands, including older 2.4GHz frequencies. Wi-Fi 6 will also likely get new spectrum in the 6GHz band in 2019 or 2020, further improving its speed.

The biggest improvement that comes with Wi-Fi 6 is that it increases the density of devices that can co-exist in a single space, further increasing the speed of all devices when there is more than one.

The new standard also improves performance by supporting deterministic (that is, not random) packet scheduling, which, as well as increasing the efficiency of the use of any given band, also makes for dramatic improvements in power utilization by mobile devices.

Wi-Fi 6 will eventually improve the experience for almost all wireless users, from office workers, who will find that their devices communicate more reliably and quickly in crowded offices, to people supporting constellations of IoT devices, who will find that they can pack more low-power devices into a space with fewer access points. The reliably deterministic nature of Wi-Fi 6, combined with its speed, means it should be usable for life-safety applications, including things like remote surgery devices.

Wi-Fi 6 products will begin rolling out in 2019.

5G

The Win: High-speed networking everywhere
The Winners: Businesses with remote workforces, automotive industry
When: Planning this year, rollout in 1-3 years

Consumers will be itching to get onboard with 5G in 2019, as carriers roll out limited installations that work on a small number of devices. Beyond 2019, 5G will bring improved speed and battery life to smartphones, as well as the growth of fixed wireless for residences, competing with wired broadband for some communities.

In the enterprise, the impact of 5G in 2019 (and beyond) will be more nuanced, but it will be felt.

5G fixed wireless will be a convenient option as a WAN connection for getting branch offices online. It may have the performance (high speed and low latency) to compete with wired connections.

As 5G rolls out (which will take years), it will also open up new possibilities for IoT applications. Thanks to 5G’s time-slicing technology, sensors will able to run on batteries that last for years.

5G’s wireless technology will also make it into corporate local-area networks: An extension of the licensed 5G spectrum into a new, lightly-licensed band, CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service), will allow businesses to set up their own, completely private 5G data networks. For some IoT  installations, this could be a compelling solution.

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will coexist as critical wireless technologies for the enterprise. It will, however, be a challenge at first to find ways to manage networks as users and devices move between them. The two technologies are highly complementary, and will be even more so when network management tools evolve to handle them side-by-side.

Digitized Spaces

The Win: Deep business insights and analytics
The Winners: Business leaders, startups
When: Now

New high-resolution geolocation technologies based on wireless radios in mobile devices, plus data mining software, are creating opportunities to understand how people and things move through physical spaces. Companies that adopt these technologies will get access to information about the users of their buildings that will open up new possibilities for business extensions and improvements.

Any business with customers at its sites (retail, education, medical, hospitality) will be able to see not just which spaces are used, but when and by what type of customer. For example, a retailer might be able to tell precisely when recipients of a coupon visit a store. A hotelier could tell if loyalty card members are using the health club. Educators would be able to track patterns in teaching spaces.

Additionally, digitized spaces will help network managers. They’ll be able to identify areas where wireless service is weak, allowing highly precise deployment of new access points. And in security, it will be easier for analytics engines to notice unusual patterns of movement among wireless devices that could indicate physical beaches.

SD-WAN

The Win: Robust, agile, and secure large-scale networks
The Winners: IT leaders, business planners
When: Now

Traditionally, corporate networks have been based around centralized control, routing, and security. Nearly all network traffic in a large business would be back-hauled to a main data center, where the interconnects to other branches and systems were, and where the security applications like firewalls did their work.

That model still exists – businesses don’t change network architectures rapidly – but it is breaking down. Designing networks primarily around branch-to-data-center connections doesn’t make sense when so many business applications are now run out of the cloud, and so many end users rely on the open Internet for connection when they’re not in a company office.

For these and other reasons, business are moving to software-defined wide-area networking, SD-WAN. SD-WAN allows networks to route traffic based on centrally-managed roles and rules, no matter what the entry and exit points of the traffic is – and with full security. For example, if a user in a branch office is working on Office365, SD-WAN can route their traffic directly to the closest cloud data center for that app, improving network responsiveness for the user and lowering bandwidth costs for the business.

SD-WAN networks can be run by leaner teams of networking engineers, and it is easy for these teams to modify the rules as business needs change. Ultimately, SD-WAN will make it easier for machine intelligence to take a hand in network management, further lowering bandwidth expenses and improving security.

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