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The Future of Wi-Fi

Groupe_887Jan. 22, 2019

The International Space Station where they actually have Wi-Fi.

With today’s gigabit-plus speeds, broad features and capabilities, and impressive price/performance, one might assume that we’re approaching the time when there will be few new wireless LAN inventions to patent. Yet, a remarkably high level of activity continues in numerous dimensions of Wi-Fi technologies. Those technologies include new physical layers, advances within the IEEE 802.11 Working Group, at Wi-Fi Alliance, and in a broad range of applications, from mission-critical real-time enterprise requirements to the Internet of Things.

In fact, there are no signs that the rate of Wi-Fi innovation is even slowing. Indeed, the next five years will reveal a remarkable number of advances, with new generations of products that keep pace with a broad range of real-world requirements. Here at ALE, we have a lot to be excited about as we are in the center of it all.

Transitioning from Aruba to Stellar

ALE has been architecting, selling and supporting WLAN for many years. A few years ago, in 2007, a relationship was started with Aruba that has successfully helped ALE customers in North America running LAN and WLAN including Advocate, Gwinnett, Kennewick, and Inspira. But things changed in 2015 when HPE acquired Aruba. HPE has a competitive offer to our Alcatel-Lucent OmniSwitch® and Alcatel-Lucent OmniAccess® families, and although we remain committed to long term support of the ALE Aruba offering, we found ourselves competing directly with HPE on many accounts. The direction for ALE is clear: Our own solution, Stellar, is the way forward. It gives us the power to develop our product to work ever more closely with our portfolio.

Wi-Fi trends over the last ten years

In many ways, the Wi-Fi market is the same as it ever was: A continuous leapfrogging from faster/better WLAN to faster/better devices and applications using the WLAN. Every time we say, “no one will ever fill this network to capacity,” someone finds a way to accomplish just that. First it was smartphones, then tablets, then HD video, then virtual reality. What has profoundly changed is that a WLAN network is no longer a “frill” or “nice to have.” It’s an essential part of the business for most enterprises, particularly in the markets we serve such as education and healthcare. While 802.11ac wave 2 is the current “state of the art,” it will be replaced by 802.11ax starting late next year bringing even better support for very dense environments. And after that, something else. The refresh cycle for WLAN seems to continue at a pace of every 3-5 years which is great news if you’re a vendor of WLAN!

WLAN is an essential service. In education, most students use mobile devices, either their own or school supplied to participate in classroom-based learning and testing. In hospitals, WLAN provides access to the patient record at the bedside or on the move. It’s become an “always-on” requirement.

WLAN radios are becoming so cheap that they find their way into absolutely everything such as dumb electric appliances like a tumble dryer. They are used in thermostats, door locks, surveillance cameras, and printers. The watch you wear on your wrist. This creates all sorts of issues in the enterprises we serve.

Tremendous pressure is placed on the WLAN network to fairly serve from its limited bandwidth. Plus, the IT department now has to serve the networking needs of departments they’ve never had to worry about before. When the facilities department orders new refrigerators that have WLAN capability, they expect to be able to use that capability. And of course, enterprise wide, since everyone is using the WLAN network, everyone expects it to just work.

You may have heard about Wi-Fi models such as Wi-Fi as a service. Wi-Fi as a service is not such a new concept. Service providers have provided public WLAN access for years. We are seeing some managed service providers offer up enterprise WLAN as a service too. In the US market, K12 schools can apply for federal funds to pay for such services. This is why our move to Alcatel-Lucent OmniVista® Cirrus is critical – it is purpose-built to facilitate the creation of a managed service.

Why Stellar is head and shoulders above the rest

What’s interesting about Stellar is its flexibility and its ability to be managed by itself in Express mode, from on premises with OmniVista 2500, or from the cloud with OmniVista Cirrus. The inclusion of frequently demanded services – such as RF management, guest portals and BYOD in the same package – is a great selling point.

If you think about how HPE/Aruba deploys the management part of a combined wired/wireless network, you’ll see that they have to include multiple software packages such as Airwave and ClearPass. This adds complexity and cost to their offer. We have it all in either OV 2500 or OV Cirrus, and that’s a pretty attractive package – simple and easy to consume. OV Cirrus enables us to bundle hardware maintenance into our offer, which is something many enterprises need anyway.

As a bonus they get very powerful (and sticky) management services that keep them renewing their subscriptions.

We’ve found that Stellar opens up new markets to us. Remember, in North America we have traditionally sold WLAN to very large customers with complex needs. Stellar allows us to tackle the much larger part of the market looking for simpler, yet complete, solutions at a lower price point. As we develop targeted relationships with other technology vendors in the vertical markets we serve, Stellar will become the “must-have” solution for schools, hospitals, clinics and hotels. The relationship with Stanley for asset tracking in assisted living facilities is a good example of this.

Great wins this year

Stellar is still pretty new for us but we have a few wins under our belts in our key vertical markets and here are just a few highlights.

Education: At Karns City Area school district we beat Ruckus to deploy WLAN throughout the district, supporting guests, faculty and students. This is a very typical kind of K12 customer we find in the U.S. market who used federal funding to help pay for their network deployment. At Empower College Prep, we replaced an Ubiquiti network with Stellar. Ubiquiti just wasn’t up to the task of providing strictly segmented Wi-Fi networks for the growing number of teachers, students…and thermostats. Thanks to the Stellar deployment, Empower was able to deploy their wireless thermostats and benefit from a 50% energy savings!

Government: Our most recent win in APAC is to create FREE nationwide Wi-Fi for public areas in the entire Philippines. A total of 900+ locations such as hospitals, train/bus stations and amusement parks have been identified for the first Pilot Site (3000 APs). This will require data LAN switches, APs, Management Software and the Policy Manager.

Wi-Fi predictions

The prediction is that Wi-Fi public hotspots will increase exponentially over the next four or five years and Wi-Fi will be omnipresent. You may not, perhaps, find it on the top of mountains, other remote places or along some highways. However, it is going to cover you like a blanket everywhere else that you spend your life: At home, schools, offices, hospitals, malls, and other public spaces. Right now, many public-space Wi-Fi equipment and technology are on a “trial mode,” meaning, their infrastructure is not top-class. However, with the predicted rise in the number of users, the level of expectation will be much higher.

Mainstream cable and landline service providers are likely to make Wi-Fi centric mobile plans with cellular backup for customers. It is likely that Wi-Fi networks will grow more complex than before. In such cases, businesses are likely to outsource the operations and deployment as a managed service to service providers. In the meantime, service providers will be simultaneously expanding their Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi technology will not have any of the challenges of coverage, cost and bandwidth presented by conventional mobile cellular networks. Wi-Fi network operators will work to provide network capacity in wholesale and will get licensed mobile operators that will work in small site locations or cells to expand their networks.

The experience provided will be more mobile-like:

  • Mobile operators are vying to increase their indoor mobile coverage by using the Wi-Fi calling facility. Some of the mobile companies are sending wireless routers to homes to provide high coverage.
  • Despite increased data speeds, better access, security has become a big concern.
  • It is also predicted that the quality of mobile services will take a hit.
  • Handsets that are feature-rich, use of 3G technologies, and outdated roaming service options have degraded mobile service quality over the years.
  • Complex applications will work to drain battery life and calls are likely to drop frequently. The call quality is also likely to be poor.
  • Demand for phones that work on a single band is predicted to increase. From being a simple method to connect different devices, Wi-Fi will emerge as an extended and integrated customer-centric technology.

There is no doubt that Wi-Fi has changed and will keep changing year after year, especially within the next five years. There will be new versions and generations of products developed, and ALE is up for the challenge and will continue to keep up with trends and new technologies.