Wireless WAN: What it is, how it can connect federal’s future

No matter the agency, every part of the federal government has an incredible responsibility to provide consistent, reliable services and keep communities safe. In an always-on, always-connected world amid COVID-19, these responsibilities have grown exponentially, as have the challenges, putting the agencies that millions rely on in new, uncharted territory. For these federal teams, this period has often meant ditching the status quo and rethinking every step to scale these efforts to meet the whopping demands of today.

At the heart of this challenge and opportunity is technology, which, if managed and implemented correctly, can do wonders for any organization, particularly the government, in keeping up with the rapidly changing needs of communities in today’s pandemic-stricken world. However, implementing technology simply for the sake of doing it will not magically yield results. So what’s the key to getting there?

A significant consideration for scaling advanced technological solutions is connectivity, and too often, federal agencies have relied on wired solutions to keep these efforts connected. But today’s demands for flexibility and adaptability require something much different.

Both amid the pandemic today and well into the future, the future of federal network-dependent initiatives will be centered around the idea of wireless wide-area networks (Wireless WAN). Wireless WAN is the next wave of network transformation that will enable connectivity virtually anywhere with greater simplicity, agility and security.

What exactly is Wireless WAN?

Simply put, Wireless WAN allows an organization to take advantage of a commercial or Private Cellular Network (PCN) as their primary or failover WAN connection. As cloud applications, mobility, and IoT devices continue to grow and become more prevalent in connecting agencies and ultimately communities, Wireless WAN solutions enable a flexible and unified approach to connecting people, places and things, anywhere.

In many instances, these wireless broadband solutions also offer much greater capabilities at a fraction of the total cost of ownership of a wired connection.

For example, using LTE and 5G improves agility, flexibility and resiliency in various situations. In fact, according to Cradlepoint’s State of the Wireless WAN report, 91% of companies are currently using or planning to adopt wireless, in the form of LTE and 5G, soon.

Nemertes Research recently interviewed technology leaders across 12 organizations. The report found that Wireless WAN provided significant value over legacy wired connections. Organizations were able to save, on average, 53% while experiencing improved performance.

Wireless also reduces the wait for setting up services by a factor of 1,000, delivering in less than an hour versus more than a month for a typical wired connection. Rapid deployment is critical when organizations may need to pivot strategies quickly, like creating pop-up facilities to fight a pandemic.

One government agency highlighted in the report, which operates across nearly 200 sites, began deploying Wireless WAN to provide failover to their wired WAN in 2017. Since then, the company has slowly adopted a model of introducing Wireless WAN in new sites while waiting months for fiber connectivity. Thus, locations came online weeks faster and achieved better uptime after the fiber link deployment. As a result, community residents get a better service experience, and each site generates more revenue for the agency,

Use cases

The overall benefits of Wireless WAN are clear. But what are the specific use cases for this approach? Wireless WAN solutions can serve several purposes, including:

Pop-up networks: With agencies and emergency services constantly on the move, especially amid the pandemic today with pop-up testing and vaccination sites, federal agencies must have a secure and reliable network that is quick to deploy and easy to run. Cellular broadband offers federal workers the ability to complete the job anytime without relying on another organization’s network or any wired solutions.

Work from anywhere: Like any other organization or industry, remote work has become common for federal teams and will be relevant even after the pandemic, with 82 percent of all companies expecting to continue some remote work after COVID-19. Deploying cloud-managed LTE routers on a dedicated wireless network for remote employees segregates the agency’s work network from the employee’s home network. Additionally, this approach gives IT control over the entire at-home work environment, from Wireless WAN to Wi-Fi, security, performance, troubleshooting, and cost. In other words, using a dedicated Wireless WAN for remote employees allows IT to centrally secure, control and manage an employee’s network experience just like they’re in the office.

Disaster response kits: Today’s pandemic underscores the urgent need for internet connectivity to ensure that life-saving emergency and relief efforts can start immediately and scale quickly. Disaster response kits with built-in LTE and a ruggedized case can offer the foundation organizations need to navigate and stay ahead of the most challenging environments. Examples include Fort Benning, which used LTE to connect quarantine tents during the pandemic quickly. Numerous Army National Guard units leveraged commercial cellular networks to support pop-up COVID-19 test sites.

Smart bases: Military base commanders seek operational efficiencies while also aiming to reduce costs and without sacrificing mission readiness. Using LTE and 5G primary connection instead of wired broadband provides high availability and low latency for where a wired broadband connection may not exist. Examples include fuel distribution location monitoring, surveillance, controlling traffic intersections and even drones.

Mobile command centers: Like many organizations today, federal agencies are not limited to brick-and-mortar locations, relying on many types of vehicles that must have reliable connectivity while on the move. In-vehicle routers embedded with LTE for 24/7 connectivity provide agencies operating mobile command centers with the ability to work and communicate efficiently while also offering ease of deployment and management in a way that wired solutions simply cannot.

Steps for a wireless future

To get started on a Wireless WAN journey, federal agencies must ask themselves what they need from their networks and where they need them. For example, do they have many smaller or larger locations, and how networking savvy is the onsite staff? Do sites such as a flight line or a training facility need network connectivity where a wired connection isn’t feasible? Could your sites benefit from an all-in-one device to serve many functions or employ an isolated network? Do you need the ability to move locations, or do you need to deploy a network right away? As we’ve seen amid the pandemic, agility is of growing importance to organizations of all kinds.

Agencies can also benefit from having a secondary connection to improve network uptime. For example, if the primary wired connection goes down, your secondary wired connection may also go down. Using wireless as a secondary connection provides a diverse path that leads to higher network uptime — ultimately keeping mission-critical applications operational and federal employees functioning.

Regardless of the path taken, the time to invest in Wireless WAN is now. Federal agencies that embrace wireless will come out of the pandemic with newfound agility and flexibility and the ability to quickly pivot their infrastructure to accommodate any new crisis. The emergence of 5G will act as a catalyst for the shift to Wireless WAN and increase the support use cases.

Mark DeVol is the Federal Area Vice President at Cradlepoint.


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