Internet access architecture hasn’t changed much in the past few years other than costs have decreased while speeds have increased. As bandwidth becomes more plentiful and competition rises, enterprises win with insanely fast network speeds at lower cost. But when a backhoe accidentally cuts a cable, business comes to a screeching halt.
Anyone that’s had this unwelcome experience knows that it means extensive downtime. Having spliced and terminated single-mode and multi-mode fiber optic cables in a former life, I can personally relate that it’s a very exact science that requires specialized equipment, materials, and expertise.
Traditional network architecture includes a Plan A and a Plan B for internet access based on distinct carriers. But now there are new wireless options, and as you’ve surely read many times, 5G is just around the corner.
State of the wire(less)
We’ve all noticed that cellular data speeds have increased dramatically. If you run a speed test on your cellphone, you will likely see double-digit throughput, and you may even see >100 Mbps. This is primarily due to a technology called Carrier Aggregation (CA), which enables two or more bands or channels to be aggregated. You can’t specifically subscribe to CA technology as it’s totally a function of your cell carrier, location of cell towers, and availability.
Further, you’ve likely seen that cellular carriers are all boasting that they are rapidly moving toward 5G. It’s not available yet, but in the next year or two, this means that cellular data speeds won’t be measured in Mbps anymore; speeds in the Gbps range will be the yardstick.
Back to business
So, how do these new cellular data speeds affect businesses? For individual mobile workers, it’s a given that cellular data facilitates getting the job done. But, let’s focus our attention on enterprise networking requirements that enable numerous people to access virtualized apps/desktops and SaaS apps.
With speeds in excess of 100 Mbps, cellular wireless is now a viable alternative as a network solution for businesses. Would you run an entire enterprise on cellular wireless? With rare exceptions, no. But could you rely on cellular data as your Plan B? Quite possibly, especially for small branch offices, retail locations, temporary worksites, and the like.
Especially as 5G becomes available, businesses will likely increase their interest in cellular data as an enterprise network solution. The setup timeframe alone—i.e., obtain router and insert SIM into router, compared to waiting months for a dedicated circuit—is enticing. And because cellular wireless doesn’t rely on a physical connection, you can smile at the backhoe operator as you park your car in the morning because you know they can’t ruin your day.
However, cellular wireless has a couple of key caveats:
- Cost. While the cost for cellular is probably more expensive than a dedicated fiber circuit, the cost comparison for cellular service that’s used only on an emergency basis will likely be favorable. In addition, you’ll need to factor the per-minute and per-hour costs of lost productivity and business, as well as data uploads and downloads, in order to complete your cost assessment.
- External access. Just like your cellphone works better outside or near windows, cellular modems/routers can’t be placed in the interior of a datacenter. As such, you may need to run some additional cabling and find a way to secure this on-premises equipment.
Let’s walk through some use cases where cellular connectivity makes business sense right now. For example, a branch location may only have a single network connection due to cost, thus it has no Plan B and has a single point of failure.
Other use cases include mobile jobsites (including offshore vessels or other vehicles) and temporary remote jobsites that will run for only a couple weeks. Basically, 4G LTE is ideal for jobsites that won’t last long enough for the typical 90- to 120-day install time required for a dedicated circuit, and becomes even more compelling when 5G becomes available.
Currently, several vendors provide routers that serve as endpoints for traditional wired terminations as well as 4G LTE, including Cisco, Cradlepoint, and Citrix. Devices from these vendors enable a cellular carrier SIM card to be inserted so that the branch office can failover to 4G LTE when a backhoe or other emergency strikes; alternatively, 4G LTE can serve as the primary network connection. In addition, each vendor device provides some level of control as to when the backup cellular connection takes over.
You would expect Cisco to be a player, and Cradlepoint is a 12-year-old company that is focused on this space. But also, Citrix released their offering (the NetScaler SD-WAN 210-LTE) in May.
While the Citrix SD-WAN 210-LTE today can uniquely feed ICA/HDX user data points to NetScaler MAS so that it populates within Director, full NetScaler MAS integration is not yet possible. NetScaler MAS integration would be the icing on the cake for Citrix customers, allowing administrators the ability to provide centralized management and control of the branch/remote location devices when cellular data is in use.
Whether your branch offices or remote jobsites access virtualized apps/desktops or SaaS apps, ensuring fast and reliable connections is no longer exclusively enabled by dedicated circuits. The current cellular data capabilities are robust enough for some use cases, such as branch office backup and remote/mobile job sites, and the upcoming 5G capabilities, as well as vendor products, will likely increase the feasibility of business cellular data as a solution.