A recurring idea in networking lately is that enterprises must evolve their technologies and strategies as the network environment evolves. This idea was reiterated at the ONUG Fall 2022 conference in New York City, as IT experts and analysts convened to discuss technologies enterprises can implement as they adapt their environments to support new trends.
One such technology is 5G. While 5G adoption is only recently starting to grow, Enterprise Strategy Group, a division of TechTarget, reported in November 2021 that 91% of 338 survey respondents said they were interested in deploying 5G. Of that 91%, almost half said they believed 5G could replace Wi-Fi entirely, at 47%; an additional 48% said they believed 5G could replace Wi-Fi for specific use cases.
As interest in 5G accelerates, organizations can use it to enable wireless WAN (WWAN) links and support a wireless-first approach in the process. Wireless-first is a strategy that uses wireless connectivity, like 5G or Wi-Fi, as the primary connection link. In a 2021 report, Paul Hughes, research director at IDC, said he expects wireless-first to become a mainstream option for WAN connectivity by 2024.
WWAN adoption is increasing across enterprises, said Donna Johnson, senior vice president of marketing at Cradlepoint, during an ONUG session. She said organizations that go wireless-first should use 4G and 5G as their connectivity choice and also implement software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) into their network designs.
5G carriers have a wide amount of spectrum available for use, which enterprises can use to enable multiple types of connections, Johnson said. These links connect fixed locations, work-from-home employees and IoT devices. Ultimately, she said the point of WWAN is to enable 5G to add agility to a single network, eliminating the use of multiple networks for various use cases.
SD-WAN's adaptive capabilities in 5G-powered WWAN
SD-WAN is also critical to a 5G WWAN deployment, Johnson said. One of the most important capabilities of 5G is its ability to enable network slicing. Network slicing partitions a single network into multiple smaller virtual segments. Operating a network within slices improves efficiency, increases flexibility and enables network teams to allocate the necessary security and resources to each slice.
"Network slicing gives organizations the ability to choose the best spectrum to fit a slice," Johnson said, adding how organizations can also use network slicing to prioritize or deprioritize links.
SD-WAN's capabilities with application control can simplify the slicing process, she said. Because SD-WAN is an adaptive technology, it can conform to network and business changes. SD-WAN implementation with 5G increases adaptivity, she added, because it can support 5G capabilities like network slicing and bandwidth throttling.
The combination of SD-WAN and 5G can improve network performance in a variety of ways. Enterprises with wireless-first networks may want to consider bridging the two technologies for wireless connectivity purposes, Johnson said, as SD-WAN was originally built for wireless networks.
5G for wireless-first
These use cases aside, carriers have yet to deploy a fully rolled-out version of 5G, despite the hype surrounding it. However, according to Johnson, 5G has evolved from its first iteration and will continue to grow in time.
"5G today isn't what it will be in the future," Johnson said. "Businesses [should] think about how to use 5G now, as well as in the future."
5G has the potential to support many use cases across various sectors and industries. Now that enterprises have reported interest in wireless-first, using SD-WAN and 5G for WWAN could become another factor for enterprises to consider during their 5G deployments.