The mobile office. Ever heard of it? Of course you have. It has become a popular thing over the last few years so much that trends continue to prove enterprise customers are continuing to move to a mobile environment over fixed office space. The difficult part of this trend from an IT perspective has been determining how the mobile office stays connected and maintains a high level of connectivity with no single method of network access? The de facto method of connectivity has become cellular, largely due to the ease of deployment via a cellular hotspot. Yet, the issue with cellular connectivity is the lack of ability to maintain the enterprise security posture at all times. As the mobile trend continues to grow, mobile network operators (MNO) such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc are seeing the amount of enterprise data carried across their networks increase exponentially. As such, MNOs are starting to understand their need to build solutions that provide enterprise services in order to capitalize on their network being the backbone of many enterprise businesses. So how can we bridge the enterprise to mobile network gap to make everyone happy?
Recently at Mobility Field Day, Cisco discussed this issue and gave some insight into how 5G is being touted by some as the solution to this problem. Let’s start by determining what exactly is 5G? Is it cellular? Is it wireless? It’s one of those terms, much like “next generation” that are vastly overused and has no clear definition. Today, it’s both. 5G is the new generation of cellular connectivity allowing for even greater speeds over traditional LTE methods that were introduced back in the late 2000s. Over the years cellular and WiFi have “borrowed” different features from each other, yet they have still maintained fairly drastic differences in how the MAC layer operates. However, with the onset of 802.11ax, those differences have been greatly reduced with the implementation of features such as OFDMA. OFDMA is the ability to slice up a segment of spectrum, and provide simultaneous services to multiple clients over WiFi, and it has been something used by cellular providers for quite a while. But does this “new” capability/capacity help the enterprise customer and mobile network operator (MNO) mind the gap of providing the necessary level of connectivity that is non-existent today?
The problem with current private LTE solutions are that the ability to scale the solution to the number of potential customers isn’t feasible. On top of the technical challenges, the amount of varying contracts that would be required between the MNO and the enterprise customer would be very difficult to manage, and then those only affect the outdoor operation of mobile devices. Since wireless spectrum is free, mobile operators want to use that same unlicensed “free” spectrum to deliver services for profit to avoid the costly addition of what limited licensed spectrum is available today. The push to utilize the unlicensed wireless spectrum is largely due to cost, however WiFi per user density is much greater than LTE, which is another driving factor for MNOs to offload data. The changes in 802.11ax have made it possible to guarantee an SLA (service level agreement) within a WiFi network that was previously unable to be delivered. So we’ve solved the level of service problem, but how do we allow visibility into device usage across multiple networks?
The concept is that the MNO would share analytics with the enterprise, allowing the enterprise to have more visibility into the overall device user experience via a product such as Cisco DNA. According to Cisco, DNA is,
“It is an open, extensible, software-driven architecture that accelerates and simplifies your enterprise network operations, while lowering costs and reducing your risk.” … “Cisco DNA automation and assurance are built on a software-defined networking (SDN) controller, rich contextual analytics, network virtualization and the limitless scalability of the cloud.”
By treating the MNO as a “peer” to the enterprise network, the enterprise gains the ability to have the insight into the mobile enterprise device usage via the DNA product, and the MNO gains additional indoor “service areas” that were previously unreachable by cellular connectivity alone. The ability to prove identity, and provide policy and control at all times is priceless to the enterprise. A win, win right? Maybe, but I’ll leave you with a few questions.
- Does the enterprise get charged for use of their 5G WiFi infrastructure that’s being used now to augment the service that should have been provided by the SP/MNO already?
- If so, is the enterprise willing to pay a price for that tie-in?
- What level of responsibility does the enterprise then bare to ensure that an SLA is met?
Hopefully this will help you ensure that your organization is “minding the gap” and utilizing products to help meet your IT goals and requirements for mobile device usage.
*You can read more about Cisco DNA here or check out Cisco.com for more information.
**Check out the video on this topic from Mobility Field day