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As digital transformation accelerates, enterprises are rethinking how they enable network connectivity. Wireless networks, for example, have typically been considered less reliable and less secure than wired networks.
As the use cases for wireless WAN (WWAN) evolve and emerge, however, interest in the technology is rising. The following WWAN case studies from Cradlepoint customers -- discussed in a recent Cradlepoint webinar -- show how wireless can help enterprises enable flexible network connectivity.
WWAN use cases
Traditional WANs use wired connectivity options, like DSL and MPLS, due to their reliability or high speeds. However, as wireless options, such as Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, mature to become more stable and secure, enterprises are starting to consider deploying wireless for their primary WAN links.
Organizations are increasingly using wireless links as they look to maintain extensive networks, connect branch office locations to a central office or enable reliable connectivity without using wired cables.
Another benefit of WWAN is the lower costs associated with the technology. Many organizations allot a large portion of their overall budgets to implement and maintain traditional DSL or MPLS WANs. WWAN alleviates this cost burden because it uses cellular or broadband links instead of expensive cable connections. Implementing a WWAN option could deliver enterprise-grade network connectivity at affordable rates.
Agora Cyber Charter School
Organizations with remote users in multiple locations can configure WWANs to deliver network connectivity to dispersed endpoints. For most organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic marked the first time they needed to deliver this kind of connectivity. For others -- such as Agora Cyber Charter School, based in King of Prussia, Pa. -- the disruption to the networking industry simplified how they already connected users.
Students attend Agora Cyber Charter School remotely from more than a dozen districts throughout Pennsylvania. The school used this remote model prior to the pandemic. But when state testing season began, school administrators set up multiple testing locations throughout the state for students to take traditional paper-and-pencil tests. This process was time-consuming and costly. Deploying a WWAN helped the school transition to remote test-taking, according to Agora CTO Michael Rublesky.
"We decided that as a cyber school, if we can conduct our business virtually, why can't we do the testing virtually?" Rublesky said.
The school now uses WWAN to set up locations with computers capable of wireless network access, according to Rublesky. Students can go to various testing locations across the state -- residential or urban, and varying in size and number of students -- to test on computers. This change enabled the school to save time, money and resources while providing students with a remote experience with which they were already familiar, he added.
In this case, the pandemic's demand for remote work and learning benefited Agora Cyber Charter School. The school had operated virtually prior to the pandemic but changed its WAN links to wireless because the need for ubiquitous connectivity elevated during the pandemic, Rublesky said.
That requirement increased for most organizations with branch offices and distributed locations. The need to connect those locations is one of the driving factors of cellular technology growth. In an IDG survey sponsored by Cradlepoint, approximately 38% of more than 700 respondents said cellular technology was their primary technology to enable software-defined WAN in their locations or branches, 29% said it was their backup technology and 28% said they mixed cellular with other services. Another 50% said they used 4G or 5G connectivity as their only WAN link for branch locations.
Crumbl Cookies franchise location
When Potato Bros CEO Kevin Lester opened a new Crumbl Cookies franchise location in Chicago, he said reliable business internet was a priority. The location had set its April 2022 grand opening date months in advance, but Lester's previous go-to service provider estimated the wait time to install the network would take six to eight weeks.
The Crumbl Cookies site uses several connected IoT devices in its facility, from cameras to smart TVs, so it was imperative for the site to have network connectivity to open on schedule, Lester said. Any delay in receiving network access would cause the business to lose employees or business revenue, he added.
"There's a lot of need for internet connection," Lester said. "Not having that would've been a catastrophic failure for us."
Cradlepoint WWAN options provided the site with wireless network connectivity to open on time for its grand opening. According to Lester, it was a 72-hour process from contacting Cradlepoint, receiving the equipment and configuring the location.
Lester said he believes businesses can benefit from the availability of more connectivity options. Other business leaders he had spoken to were unaware that options for wireless connectivity are available at similar or lower rates. He said he expects wireless network connectivity to grow in popularity as others become aware of the benefits.
"When we think about a small business, we're looking to be efficient with our costs," Lester said. "Knowing that we can get that connection and reliability with speed for a similar -- if not cheaper -- price, I think more people are turning on to it."
What do these WWAN use cases mean?
With benefits like improved bandwidth, reduced costs and increased flexibility in introducing new services, WWAN has become an alluring option for enterprises. IDG's research shows that the primary WWAN use case is the ability to deliver network connectivity in any or multiple locations. In a world where much of the workforce continues to work remotely or in hybrid environments, WWAN technology could edge out DSL and traditional wired WAN cabling, regardless of the provider.
Interest has increased across organizations from several verticals and markets. For example, according to Greg Henderson, consulting sales engineer for Cradlepoint, percentages for cellular connectivity grew across all verticals he had observed, and he expected them to continue to accelerate in the following years.
"The major event of COVID passed, but we kept on growing on the 4G/5G path line because [customers] saw what it could do for them," Henderson said.