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Robust WLAN infrastructure key to strategic mobile UC

Having a robust WLAN infrastructure is no longer a convenience, it's a necessity. Modern WLAN deployments are costly, but there's a silver lining enterprises often overlook.

Having a robust wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure is no longer a convenience, it's a necessity as demand for unlocking the benefits of mobile UC and increased mobile device support grows.

The well-documented and growing bring your own device (BYOD) phenomenon is creating new security, capacity and integration concerns for IT departments that didn't exist a year ago.

IT departments can limit the impact of unsanctioned, personally owned devices by using captive portals or similar network intelligence, but tactics like these can't exist into perpetuity. Although network segmentation is acceptable for guests, workers expect to tap into enterprise resources and will continue knocking on IT's door until they get access.

Herein lies an opportunity -- one where embracing the inevitable is synonymous with enrichment. IT's role is changing from authoritarian overseer to that of strategic advisor of its workforce. Implementing a mobile policy that empowers workers to translate mobile devices into more productivity can be a big step in solidifying IT's position as a technology enabler for today's employees.

Nemertes' research shows a direct correlation between successful mobility strategies and employee-owned devices. Quantifying the causality between the two is difficult, given the amount of factors that go into characterizing mobility success. However, it's safe to say an IT department actively engaged in helping users connect their mobile devices will see a reduction in friction, and it will characterize the success of their mobile UC strategy accordingly. And this is the point exactly: IT should see its relationship in a light where enabling the workforce -- especially with something as revolutionary as mobility -- results in a better relationship between employees and IT.

WLAN infrastructure: Embrace the inevitable

Many companies still view the wireless LAN  as a convenience for mobile-minded users, rather than as a strategic imperative. The pervasiveness, capability and buy-in that mobile devices have achieved has changed this dynamic, making substantive wireless LAN infrastructures an absolute necessity to support mobile devices in the workplace.

Justifying extensive wireless LAN deployments of yesteryear was exceptionally difficult because there were only limited advantages to using laptops over Wi-Fi rather than over Ethernet. There was also no corresponding ROI. As a result, enterprises rolled out Wi-Fi solutions that catered to and reinforced employees' low expectations of availability, reliability and capacity.

This dynamic has done an about-face in the last year. As critical business processes such as voice, unified communications and video move to the mobile device and the wireless LAN, the wireless LAN infrastructure grows in importance—and is now on par with wireline. Wi-Fi must be not only ubiquitous, but one step ahead of the rapidly evolving (read: bandwidth-hungry) mobile UC applications that are driving device adoption.

IT departments must re-architect to address density, capacity and latency. With costly new wireless LAN infrastructure requirements comes an oft-overlooked silver lining, however. The hard return on investment that executives want to see justifying modern wireless LAN deployments comes by grace of rising cellular data costs. IT staffs can now move the deluge of mobile devices that would otherwise be consuming data over cost-prohibitive cellular networks onto a robust wireless LAN infrastructure, in many cases delivering a superior data experience. Consequently, wireless LAN initiatives will offset their substantial CAPEX by offloading data and even voice onto a much less expensive WAN connection.

The wireless LAN's extraordinary capability to integrate a myriad of services and deliver content stems from both its ubiquity and Wi-Fi's flexibility as an access technology.

Part two of this series details the promise of scalable wireless LAN infrastructures, how they can be used to unlock the benefits of mobile UC and how to prepare for the ever-increasing demands of the mobile workforce.

About the author: Philip Clarke is a research analyst with Nemertes Research, where he conducts research, employs statistical analysis and develops research reports. Clarke focuses mainly on the state of the cellular market, forecasting next-generation wireless network implementations and near-future network solutions such as cognitive radio and dynamic spectrum allocation. He holds a master's degree in telecommunications and a bachelor's in information systems, both from the University of Colorado.

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