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In today’s world, anyone will attest that having instantaneous access to applications, data, insights, collaboration tools and other personal and professional fulfillment platforms is critical. While there is a plethora of mobile devices – smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc. – to choose from as your hardware platform, and thousands of software apps available, how you connect to the networks which provide the access is still primarily a binary choice: Wi-Fi or Cellular.
Cellular data platforms have been around since the early 90’s when the first text messages were sent over a 2G network. Wi-Fi’s first 802.11 standards were released in the late 90’s. Not much of a time difference from their origins, but, we’ve seen Wi-Fi network speed capacity increasing faster than their cellular counterpart over the past decade or so.
But with the advent of 5G and WiFi6, what does that mean for enterprise IT? And for your customers/end-users? With the speed gap closing, thinking ahead about the critical factors is key.
Fast, Seamless and Secure
In my opinion, there are three key desired capabilities by end-users when it comes to what they expect from their mobile experience: Fast networks, seamless transitions and secure connectivity – in that order, for better or for worse.
Individual users, as well as professionals in and out of the workplace, have ever-growing demands when it comes to the data throughput speeds they need. Whether it is multimedia for social platforms, digital documents and workflows, live audio/video collaboration tools or “fun” networked apps, high-speed networks are critical. Often, however, the bottleneck is not the application nor the wired network – it’s the mobile network. Users will try to find the closest available Wi-Fi network (including unsecured “free” networks) to transition away from the “slower” cellular network. The cost implications of limited cellular data plan also play a role, but to a lesser degree with many service providers now offering “unlimited” plans. The very nature of spectrum dependent and sharing cellular/Wi-Fi network technology has generally kept it far behind wired networks which are now exceeding 100 Gbps for critical computing environments. Identifying what the acceptable bandwidth and speed requirements are for an optimal experience is critical when designing your mobile infrastructure.
The next critical factor is a seamless experience as users transition from being out in the open to being inside/near a structure, e.g. work, school or home. Mobile devices, particularly those who have both cellular data modems and Wi-Fi built-in, can typically remember dozens of networks. Network roaming generally allows users cellular devices to switch to different carrier antennas and storing Wi-Fi SSID’s helps you connect to any number of places you may have visited and connected to. But as cellular spectrum becomes more pervasive throughout buildings, and Wi-Fi networks introduce challenge questions, personal info collection, etc., how does that affect the user experience when transitioning?
Finally, knowing that the transactions one conducts over a mobile network are secure from snooping or another malicious activity is a growing concern. While further awareness needs to be spread, balancing the prior two factors into a secure experience is a responsibility for every service provider – whether it is an IT shop or a public cellular company. The lure of free Wi-Fi is often too sweet and exposes users to data loss and other malicious activity.