Keeping it Connected

By  Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — March 04, 2013

What happens when remote workers, typically running on their own networks at home, or in the field, all come into the office with two or three devices? BYOD might be the expectation, but users are not inclined to BYON (bring your own network) just yet and will switch to the corporate connection.

And what about those who are typically in the office — they don’t just sit there tethered to the dinosaur desktop — they also are bringing smartphones and tablets, and demanding Wi-Fi.

With the increased number of devices in the enterprise along with the expectation of instant and always on, corporate networks are being strained and can’t always keep up with the latest technology.

According to the iPass Global Mobile Workforce Report, this “mobile stack” grew to 3.47 in 2012, up from 2.68 in 2011, driven by the continued adoption of tablets.

And tablets are the perfect example of a device type for which the enterprise had not planned only a few years ago. Yet, they are top sappers of bandwidth. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2015, 80% of newly installed enterprise wireless networks will be obsolete due to the initial installation of non-scalable technology. And without an effective plan for growth, enterprises deploying iPads today will need 300% more Wi-Fi by 2015 just to keep up with user demand.

For IT to address this, the iPass report says, “The first call to arms will be to ensure your employees can connect cost-effectively at the point of need, wherever they are located. Your adaptation strategy should also include investing in better management tools to monitor the usage of wireless data, upgrading infrastructure to address the new capacity requirements, licensing outside network services that ensure employees can connect cost-effectively, and requiring employees to use inexpensive and secure external Wi-Fi connections whenever possible.”

This seems fairly straightforward, but it’s easier said than done considering legacy systems, budgetary requirements and personnel restraints. Nonetheless, enterprises are beginning to address this evolving need, and it’s starting with the providers.

Network Numbers
Yankee Group values the mobile broadband marketplace at U.S.$1 trillion. In its Market Vision report, “What’s Next for Mobile Broadband,” the analyst firm breaks down the current state of the market saying that worldwide 4G/LTE deployments are proliferating. By the end of 2013, it forecasts 114 million active LTE connections globally, increasing to 258 million by the end of 2014.

According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, in 2012 global mobile data traffic grew  70% and mobile data traffic was nearly twelve times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000. This traffic is predicted to increase “13-fold” by 2017.

The Index also shows that in 2012, a fourth-generation (4G) connection generated 19 times more traffic on average than a non-4G connection. Although 4G connections represent only 0.9% of mobile connections today, they already account for 14% of mobile data traffic.

The Index goes on to say that the average smartphone usage grew 81% and the average amount of traffic per smartphone was 342 MB per month, up from 189 MB per month in 2011.

Interestingly, smartphones represented only 18% of total global handsets in use in 2012, but represented 92% of total global handset traffic. Globally, 33% of total mobile data traffic was offloaded onto the fixed network through Wi-Fi or femtocell.

When it comes to the tablet craze, the Index revealed that the number connected increased 2.5-fold in 2012 to 36 million, and each tablet generated 2.4 times more traffic than the average smartphone. And, Cisco says tablets will exceed 10% of global mobile data traffic in 2015.

Cisco also forecasts a staggering figure: by the end of 2013, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth. There will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices in 2017, including machine-to-machine (M2M) modules, exceeding the world’s population at that time (7.6 billion).

Carrying the Load
So what are the nationwide carriers doing to support this explosion?  In November 2012, AT&T announced plans to invest $14 billion over the next three years to significantly expand and enhance its wireless and wireline IP broadband networks to support growing demand for high-speed Internet access and new mobile, app and cloud services. The company currently covers 288 million people with 4G; 4G LTE is live in 141 markets.

The investment plan – Project Velocity IP (VIP) – expands AT&T’s high-potential growth platforms, helping drive continued increases in revenues from existing and new products and services, and earnings per share. The company says, “Expanding AT&T’s 4G LTE network to 300 million people, combined with its leadership in smartphones and data access, provides a large platform for the next wave of growth in mobility.”

As 2013 begins, Verizon Wireless says its 4G LTE network is now available in 473 markets and extends to 273.5 million potential customers with continued expansion planned. According to the company, by mid-year 4G LTE will be available in nearly every U.S. market currently served by the company’s 3G data service.

And by year’s end, the Verizon 4G LTE footprint will completely cover the area served today by its 3G network. This year, the company also will continue to work with rural communications companies through LTE in Rural America, helping them to build and operate a 4G LTE network in their areas.

T-Mobile says it reaches 200 million Americans in 208 markets with its 4G network, but last year confirmed that it will need a spectrum partner by 2014 or 2015 in order to build sufficient LTE capability. A statement issued by the company says, “Deutsche Telekom is exploring various options to acquire additional spectrum and reduce the gap regarding economies of scale compared with its larger competitors, including partnering with other companies.”

Sprint covers 58 cities and has announced 200 markets with its 4G LTE. Through its Network Vision project, the company plans to consolidate multiple network technologies into one new, seamless network with the goal of increasing efficiency and enhancing network coverage, call quality and data speeds for customers across the United States.

Government Plan
All the plans laid out above would be moot should the FCC’s alleged plan to support the “Internet of things” come to pass. It was widely reported, spurred by comments from Chairman Julius Genachowski and the release of the report “Measuring Broadband America” in February 2013, that the government has a vision of free Wi-Fi for all. This would come through a creation of a so-called super network and is said to be supported by tech giants.

Yankee Group Senior Analyst Rich Karpinski commented at the time, “This isn’t exactly a new story—the battle over white spaces broadband has been on the federal/industry agenda for years now. The news here looks to be comments from Google and Microsoft advocating the idea of the federal government using broadcast spectrum for new so-called free Wi-Fi networks versus selling off those airwaves to commercial operators.”

He also pointed out that while hardware and web companies would certainly benefit from “cheap, ubiquitous broadband access for their customers, it’s not as if a lack of connectivity held back the explosion in smartphones nor is it threatening to derail an expected second wave of post-PC/post-smartphone connected devices now coming down the pike.”

And while it might seem like enterprise utopia, when it comes to connectivity and capacity, Karpinski pointed out that such a network wouldn’t exactly be free to create.

“Not only would the government need to fund and deploy the air interface portion of the network, all of that would-be mobile data traffic would need to be backhauled, a not-incidental ongoing operational cost that also requires a significant upfront capital investment in local fiber or microwave backhaul links. Further, deploying a best-effort light Web access network is a far cry from the type of Internet of things-capable network that is being discussed—a more challenging endeavor that would require significant network smarts to ensure that smart car automated-driving connections...” he said.

Enterprise Examples
Still Karpinski noted that, technicalities aside, a shared public network is possible. “It’s just likelier to be a more expensive and complex undertaking than those advocating it are willing to admit in this, the early lobbying stages of the effort,” he said.  Until then, the enterprise needs to keep moving. What follows are two such examples of coverage and connectivity success.

New England Patriots Defy Density

With a capacity of nearly 70,000, Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots had been seeking a solution to support their “hyper dense” environment, where thousands of BYOD devices in a very small footprint require reliable, high-performance access to content such as streaming video.

Enterasys Wi-Fi was selected to solve the hyper-density issues and deliver a rich and seamless fan experience for all,  and it  quickly evolved into the enterprise solution as well.

Driving Mobility
Both on the field and off, mobility is a shared responsibility between the franchise and the “parent.” Pat Curley, vice president of IT for The Kraft Group (owners of the New England Patriots) explains, “The NFL can and will have mobile initiatives. Separately, our business operations have mobile initiatives. Some can operate on our private business network backbone and others will operate on the public Enterasys backbone.”

For the most part, the organization operates under a corporate-issued model, but Curley notes that there are exceptional situations where BYOD is authorized for company email use. When it comes to devices, there is a wide array from office to service. “Laptops, tablets and smartphones are in use predominantly for messaging. Portable POS units are being deployed to offer more convenience to customers throughout the stadium. Smartphones are used for certain stadium operations functions as well,” he says.

NFL fans are always hungry for more stats, more images, more video and they want to share it all in real-time. Fred Kirsch, vice president of content for the New England Patriots oversees this delivery, which was a big reason for seeking a solution.

He says, “The principle driver was enhancing the fan experience at games. Fans expect connectivity and cellular or distributed antenna systems (DAS) alone cannot handle the load. Part of today’s live sports experience is sharing it, which means taking and uploading photos, posts, tweets, etc. In addition, new and exclusive content needs to be created in order to enhance the in-game experience and allow it to rival the at-home experience.”

Dealing with the inherent density issues was the biggest challenge, according to Kirsch. This involved having the combination of  DAS and the proper access points (AP) for the job and dealing with the distance between the closest switch and the APs.

Driving the Enterprise
Once the decision was made to create the network for the consumer-facing needs, the case for the enterprise became obvious as well. Kirsch says it made sense to have the entire facility use the same Wi-Fi network and have it controlled through central management software. He notes that the enterprise portion of the solution was “fairly routine for them [Enterasys] and is functioning beautifully.”

Curley adds, “Other challenges include security, with which Enterasys was familiar enough to handle well. We asked for a slightly more complex implementation to ensure continuity of compliance initiatives.”

Now, all areas of the building share the same network with various departments working on their own password-protected SSID. This includes scouting, player areas, coaching, administration and public conference areas. “This project has helped us consolidate backbone infrastructure into a single ‘network’ available to Gillette Stadium guests, whether it’s the press, fans or business partners,” says Curley.

Kirsch also says, that through this deployment, “We have met our goals of enhancing the in-stadium fan experience and positioning ourselves to take advantage of future content opportunities, both self-initiated ones and those provided by the NFL.”

Insuring Productivity Through Connectivity

To provide pervasive wireless coverage and ensure support for both company-owned and personal mobile devices, specifically iPads, the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, based in Horsham, PA, deployed an Aruba WLAN.

In doing so, not only did the company need to make sure their wireless network provided the appropriate coverage and capacity, but given their network is business-critical, the wireless network needed to be reliable, secure and have the ability to authenticate user devices and provide the appropriate level of network access.

Taking Ownership
According to Andrew McInerney, manager, network administration, at Penn Mutual, IT owns mobility in the form of corporate handheld devices with an enterprise MDM platform from Airwatch, currently being developed to provide secure control over wireless/active sync (email).

He said, “At our home office, each day Penn Mutual supports roughly 150 concurrent wireless users, providing role-based access to corporate associates and devices. We offer limited access to personal devices as well as true visitors in the form of Internet-only access. Active sync would serve as Penn Mutual’s primary wireless beneficiary with emerging use cases developing with a strong push to the cloud.”

The company’s home office Wi-fi capable personal handheld and tablet platform’s — iOS and Android — are supported in “a true BYOD fashion.” These are primarily personally-owned devices allowed to securely join the Penn Mutual wireless network.

Taking Stock
To assess the wireless needs, McInerney said that an extensive site survey was conducted within the home office to ensure adequate signal strength, overlap and ultimately, gap-free coverage. In consideration of the variety and number of devices present, “Design considerations accounted for a multiplier of 3 per associate, which has proven to be fairly accurate for a portion of our wireless community,” he explained.

Dual wireless controllers were deployed in an active/passive configuration allowing for seamless redundancy and high availability.  

In such a highly regulated industry, security was a primary consideration, and McInerney said it was well thought out in advance. He said, “Ensuring clear and concise security hardening, standards and acceptable use were key in delivering not only a useable solution, but more importantly, a secure solution.”

Take on Security
With security being so critical in the design and development effort, strong collaboration between IT and Information Protection resulted in a clear design effort focusing on industry standard security practices. “While no one unique challenge was noted, overall, thoughtful consideration to signal bleed and proper AP locations were important parts of the overall security process. There were no grey area considerations; wireless was designed specifically with an enabled/disabled view on options, no wavering on security standards in favor of insecure access,” he said.

McInerney said that this wireless initiative has offered a significant gain in productivity. The ability to roam the building wirelessly was noticeable immediately. The associate’s use of tablets has increased and having full network access from a company managed  wireless device is changing the work dynamic.


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