Key wireless and mobility trends for 2014

A number of wireless and mobility trends are poised to have great impact on the networking industry this year. Last year, we saw the tremendous growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Bring Your Own App (BYOA) in enterprises and organizations of all sizes, as well as the emergence – and rapid traction – of 802.11ac. These, along with the following new trends, will continue to influence the market as the calendar turns to 2014:

802.11ac (Gigabit Wi-Fi) Gains Momentum: The new IEEE 802.11ac standard will continue its notable rate of growth, especially as the 2013 holiday season brings a rush of new 802.11ac-capable devices to end users eager to put them to use, and as enterprises turn to 802.11ac to deliver a better experience for bandwidth-intensive applications such as video. For newer 802.11ac-capable devices like the Macbook Air and Samsung Galaxy Note, 802.11ac drastically increases performance by delivering 1.3 Gigabits per second (Gbps). Additionally, for 802.11n and older devices, the new standard can also significantly boost speeds. A further advantage of 802.11ac is that it is the last big capacity increase for Wi-Fi that can still work with existing gigabit Ethernet networks. Wi-Fi will eventually move beyond gigabit speeds, and when it does it will require a more extensive network upgrade to support 10 gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) backhaul for each wireless access point (AP).

Cloud Wi-Fi Comes of Age: Managing Wi-Fi connectivity across many distributed locations can become a management nightmare for many enterprises. Having a simplified and centralized way to provision and manage many Wi-Fi locations can deliver cost and efficiency improvements for organizations and change the way they connect distributed office and retail locations. In 2013, Cloud-managed Wi-Fi networks required some tough tradeoffs like consumer-grade reliability and performance. In 2014, Cloud Wi-Fi will take off as the technology matures, delivering the kind of enterprise-class features and performance inherent in traditional WLAN management. In 2014, we’ll see built-in intelligence amp up Cloud-managed Wi-Fi APs to deliver the same capabilities as controller-managed APs. We’ll see cloud Wi-Fi that stays always on by adding fast failover, redundant uplinks and cellular backup links to the WLAN, plus global redundancy for the Cloud management service itself. We’ll also see more flexible architectures as cloud Wi-Fi allows access points to run in multiple modes and locations, managed by a single solution. IT will no longer have to stitch together solutions or settle for a non-ideal architecture.

BYOD Accelerates as IT Gives End Users More Control: A major IT management burden in large organizations is getting users connected easily and securely with minimal cycles. Each user often has three or more Wi-Fi enabled devices, impacting the network as well as the volume of demand on helpdesk support teams. In 2014, IT departments will give end users more control over their devices and access, so that IT can focus on managing the network and improving the user experience. Tasks previously handled by IT such as onboarding and provisioning new mobile devices, giving network access to guests and registering and sharing media appliances like printers and projectors over the network will be turned over to end users, who will handle these activities easily and securely.

Mobile Unified Communications Moves into the Mainstream: According to ABI Research, mobile users will download 70 billion apps in 2013 – 58 billion to smartphones and 14 billion to tablets. While a fraction of those are UC- related apps, the general trend is towards more two-way communicating mobile applications. Modern Wi-Fi networks have helped usher in mobile UC by providing visibility into the traffic and by communicating directly with UC systems. This allows for reliable, high fidelity voice and video over crowded enterprise Wi-Fi networks and, for the first time, gives IT administrators an end-to-end view of a UC call for management, reporting and troubleshooting. With the Wi-Fi network allowing IT to gain better visibility and control, mobile UC will become mainstream in 2014.

SDN Moves into the Mobile Infrastructure for a Better App Experience: Apps work better when networks can adjust to the specific traffic running over them. While the ability to prioritize various data types has been around for some time, being able to instantaneously have visibility and adjust the wired and wireless LAN infrastructure to improve mobile apps is now coming to the forefront. In 2014, Software-Defined Networks (SDN) will play a greater role in mobile infrastructures, enabling a better app experience for end users. With SDN, mobile networks become more dynamic, adapting in real-time to changing conditions and application requirements. Ultimately, this means an enhanced and more personalized experience for end users.

As 2014 begins, mobility will be front and center in enterprise technology initiatives. While we will surely continue to see new and growing demands hit wireless access networks as the year unfolds, we will just as surely see the industry’s demonstrated pace of innovation and technical advances continue to rise to the occasion.

Albert Tay is ASEAN General Manager, Aruba Networks