When you think about what it takes to compete in today’s marketplace, every business is essentially becoming a technology business. In denial?
Every company or organization on the planet is being forced to digitally-reinvent itself to remain relevant. Why? Their customers, partners, employees, investors, patients, students, members, donors, and other key stakeholders are demanding it.
People demand more from your website, social media presence, and mobile app. And for anyone that visits your physical location(s), it’s now a given that the manual, labor-intensive, paper-based processes are increasingly digitized. Tablets, self-service kiosks, touchscreens, and WiFi are now no longer a novelty and competitive advantage. These technologies are merely the price of entry.
But with the pace of change comes great responsibility. This is especially true with your wireless network -- because every IT application you and your team use depends on fast, reliable, and secure WiFi.
In this article, you’ll learn about five main considerations for how to create a technology plan for your company’s WiFi services.
Map Out Which Business Applications You Need to Roll Out Now
First up, think about the kind of business applications that your end users need to run on your wireless network:
● Accounting and finance applications -- including favorites like FreshBooks, Gusto, QuickBooks, and Xero
● Communications applications -- including VoIP and video conferencing apps such as 8x8, GoToMeeting, RingCentral, Slack, Skype, Vonage, and Zoom (Note: Video conferencing applications are notoriously demanding on wireless networks.)
● Payment applications -- including PayPal and Square
● Streaming video applications -- including everything from learning management systems (LMS’s) to distance learning to even watching YouTube videos
● Time management and project management applications -- including Basecamp, RescueTime, Teamwork, and Trello
As the person who’s planning your company’s technology implementation -- especially around WiFi, you likely have a firm grasp on how your users run applications on your network.
However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that you know about all of the applications in use. Talk with different departments within your company. Send out a survey. Check your help desk tickets. Ask your finance team for a list of active software subscriptions and licenses.
Once you have a grasp on the business applications in use, be sure that your WiFi network is designed to support these applications.
Forecast Which Business Applications You Need to Deploy in the Next One to Three Years
Now if you think it’s challenging to get a handle on the usage patterns of your company’s existing software applications, forecasting future software usage is even trickier.
Identifying what’s coming next is often part science and part art. There’s a couple of different ways to approach this:
As you visit with or survey individual teams within your company about software usage, ask the more tech-savvy user how they think this might change over the next one to three years.
● Is there a software application currently in use that’s almost certainly going way?
● Is there an app that’s just being piloted or trialed now that’s supposed to be hot in the coming months?
● Are there any software applications that they’re reading about in blogs or on social media that they want to explore?
● Are there software applications that keep getting talked up at industry conferences or on webinars?
All of these kinds of questions should help you gather a forward-looking vision of the types of software you anticipate that your company will be using in the relatively near future. Once you’re armed with what is likely just a single page summary, take that info and find out which of these applications tend to be the most bandwidth intensive.
Then make sure that your next major WiFi network refresh takes these bandwidth-hungry applications into account.
Consider the Impact of IoT Becoming More Mainstream
IoT (The Internet of Things) is another looming IT trend that’s certain to impact dozens of industries.
In case you’re not familiar with IoT, Wikipedia defines IoT as an extension of Internet connectivity into your physical devices and everyday objects.
Today, when people think of IoT, word association typically leads to thoughts of smart thermostats like Nest, as it was one of the first mass-market, commercialized IoT devices.
However, since then, other IoT devices like the Ring Doorbell and Amazon's Alexa have become just as popular.
So, what’s coming next with IoT?
In the coming years, you’ll see more smart refrigerators, autonomous cars, smart watches, smart toothbrushes, delivery drones, and even exoskeletons.
Among business uses, IoT applications will vary by vertical. However, the education, entertainment, healthcare, hospitality, and manufacturing sectors are all already benefiting from a host of game-changing, IoT-driven technologies.
Just as relevant, the IEEE is already talking up a new, next generation of IoT engineering dubbed the “Network of Things.” This will add cyber-physical systems (CPS) to the foundation of IoT that’s been around for the better part of a decade.
Within this context, look for more:
● Communications Channels
● eUtility hardware and software
● Decision triggers
Just as important, faculty from Penn State University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are already starting to catalog how existing college courses can help -- and what will need to change for higher education to develop curricula that support IoT- and CPS-related engineering.
Factor in How WiFi Services Change with 6 GHz Band Adoption
Aside from thinking about your current and future business applications, and their impact on WiFi, as well as how IoT will evolve, the FCC is already sounding the alarm on another issue that impacts how your company plans its technology around WiFi.
The FCC has recently issued a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Why does this matter? An industry-leading trade group, the Wi-Fi Alliance, believes this NPRM is crucial for unlocking needed spectrum for unlicensed uses like WiFi.
In case you’re relatively new to planning a big WiFi project, current WiFi networks either run on 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz bands.
However, the Wi-Fi Alliance has found that due to insufficient spectrum access, bandwidth bottlenecks threaten U.S. telecommunications infrastructure and the global economy.
The new 6 GHz standard would allow wireless hardware manufacturers and WiFi service providers to better support high-data throughput applications. This includes supporting high-bandwidth applications such as a high definition (HD) video streaming as well as virtual reality.
A lot of what’s currently up for debate centers around how 6 GHz WiFi will co-exist with 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi devices and networks, as well as differences between lower-power, indoor only (LPI) access points and more standard power access points.
Learn from Common WiFi Use Cases
By definition, WiFi-centric technology planning needs to account for your company’s unique needs -- often grounded in everyday needs within specific industries and business models.
However, for illustrative purposes, consider the following use cases:
● Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) -- If you’re a business and you’re going to start allowing employees to use their mobile devices while in the office, what does that mean for your wireless network? What kinds of upgrades will you need to make to support anywhere from dozens to thousands of new devices?
● Higher Education -- For example, if you know that you’re about to add three new dorm buildings to your college campus, what does that mean for your network? What has to change to extend the reach of reliable, high-performance, and secure WiFi to those additional buildings?
● Warehouse -- If you manage a warehouse or manufacturing facility, and you want to upgrade your inventory management system, what will you need from your network to support that upgrade?
The Bottom Line on How to Create a Technology Plan
In this article, you’ve learned how to take into account your current and near-future business applications needs, why the growth of IoT devices matters, how future 6 GHz WiFi standards will impact your existing WiFi services investment, and how to think about some everyday use cases.
Wireless networks are no longer a nice-to-have luxury. For most kinds of businesses, WiFi is now a mission-critical competitive necessity -- right up there with utility power, HVAC, and running water.
And that’s the reason why wireless networking is now such an essential part of creating a sound technology plan.