Wireless gets ready for prime-time
For a long time, the wireless network has been treated as something of an auxiliary operation, managed outside the scope of the enterprise network. But those days are drawing to a close. More and more federal agencies are looking to integrate their wireless systems with their core network infrastructure. Next on the horizon: wireless broadband.
The days when wireless devices were treated as ancillary are coming to a close, as agencies realize that their employees cannot afford to stop work just because they might be out of the office or away from their desks.
If federal IT managers haven’t figured it out for themselves, their employees have made it clear: If they are allowed to stay connected wherever they might be, they can be much more productive.
In a recent survey by the 1105 Government Information Group, the interest in wireless was clear. Out of 209 respondents, 30 percent indicated that their agencies had integrated wireless traffic into the existing network infrastructure or were in the process of doing so. Another 45 percent said their agencies were investigating the possibility or already planned to do so (see figure 1).
In all likelihood, the number of agencies integrating wireless into their core networks will only rise. A recent report by market research firm Infonetics Research found that nearly all the devices being added to corporate networks are wireless, with a new surge in tablet use expected soon.
Some of this, of course, can be attributed to bring-your-own-device policies, which are making it cost-effective for organizations to allow more users to go mobile. But those same policies make it more important to improve management of the mobile environment.
“In order to effectively support mobile devices, user mobility and BYOD, a robust wireless infrastructure is no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have,” said Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst for enterprise networks and video at Infonetics.
According to the survey, 43 percent of respondents said their agencies planned to increase spending on products to support mobile network integration, while 36 percent anticipated more investment in wireless access technology.
The survey also found growing interest in wireless broadband solutions. Out of 186 respondents, 10 percent said their agencies had already deployed Long Term Evolution (LTE)-based solutions, with another 17 percent planning to deploy and 44 percent considering it. The results were similar for WiMax IP-based solutions (see figure 2).
Both LTE and WiMax technologies have emerged to meet the needs of users who want fast access to media-rich content from their mobile devices. Slowly but surely, analysts say, wireless broadband solutions are making it easier for users to go wireless, even when they are in the office.
Commercial interest in LTE in particular is gaining traction as telecommunications vendors build out their networks and device suppliers sign on. BYOD might be creating some demand for support within agencies as employees bring their new devices to work, but it is not likely to be widespread, at least not in the near term.
“For the typical government user, I don’t know that this is a high priority,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. “The business case will drive the decision-making, and other [investment] areas have stronger business cases or stronger risks.”
Of course, some government users are far from typical. For example, the Department of Homeland Security, which operates some of the largest tactical communications infrastructures in the federal government, is eager to adopt wireless broadband solutions.
According to a recent broad agency announcement (BAA), several DHS components have been working to modernize those infrastructures. The department wants to ensure that any such efforts capitalize on recent developments in wireless broadband.
“Existing [wireless] systems provide narrowband voice only,” states a recent request for information. But “today’s users require data and video in addition to mission-critical voice.”
In the interest of lowering the cost of entry, DHS officials hope to provide users with access to existing commercial and public safety networks on a subscription basis, according to the BAA.
State and local law enforcement agencies are also likely to consider LTE or other broadband solutions. GCN reports that in advance of the Republican National Convention last August, police in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., set up an LTE cellular network to support communications for units doing crowd control and surveillance.
The network was a demonstration project for the proposed National Public Safety Broadband Network, which is testing LTE for use by first responders, according to GCN.