Thanks to the proliferation of mobile technologies throughout our society, government agencies now have a wide variety of options for connecting devices and applications to their operational or industrial environments. But gone are the days of cookie-cutter designs. This variety is fueling a feature-rich environment, one with decisions galore. That’s why local, state, and federal government agencies (and the organizations they partner with) should look at each technology carefully, based on the specific mix of use cases they need addressed rather – than just picking one they’re already familiar with – or are hearing the most buzz about. So let’s take a quick look at how to pick the right wireless tech for you agency.
If you’re leading your IT team’s search for the right wireless technology to deploy, you need to carefully consider different aspects of each technology in a context of the end-to-end IP data flow it will encounter. I suggest you evaluate each of them for the specific use cases and deployment needs you face, instead of a generic one size fits all use. Four great options are available, each with their own value add (solution details here). They include:
- Industrial WiFI
- Public and private 5G
- Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul
- Long Rang WAN (LoRaWAN).
While each has benefits that may be what you’re in need of, one may stand out above the others based on your specific use cases. That’s why understanding how to pick the right wireless does indeed matter. It’s important that you make the “right choice”, not just the “acceptable choice.” You can take a deeper dive in our latest whitepaper on the subject, located here. But whatever you select, remember that it needs to be the best suited for your use case without making compromises that may negatively impact your network’s cybersecurity, automation, and performance.
5 criteria on how to pick the right wireless
Wireless methodologies differ substantially from each other in their maturity, capabilities, and operational considerations. When selecting a wireless technology to fit your agency’s needs, I strongly suggest using the five benchmarks below as your guideposts.
- First, consider the type of use case you’ll be applying the wireless technology to. The use case usually defines the throughput, location (indoors or outdoors), resiliency, latency, range, and types of devices that need connectivity. Remember, while your wireless may primarily be used to connect devices directly, it may also have to backhaul data from worksites, buildings, or vehicles on occasion.
- Review the choices of spectrum. Spectrum refers to the radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over. The portion of the total available spectrum used for wireless communication ranges from about 20 kHz to 300 GHz. Some wireless technologies, like 5G and Wi-Fi, can operate in a range of spectrums, giving you more flexibility. Plus, spectrum can be licensed or unlicensed. The available spectrum for IP networking is usually broken down into three bands.
- Low-band spectrum (under 1 GHz) travels longer distances and can penetrate through obstructions but offers relatively low data speeds.
- High-band spectrum (above 7 GHz) travels shorter distances but offers high capacity, ultra-fast speeds.
- Mid-band spectrum (between 1 and 7 GHz) blends the characteristics of both the low- and high-band spectrums, providing a mix of coverage and capacity.
- Consider coverage area, power considerations, and density. Wireless technologies differ in the area they cover, how much power they use, and the number of devices they can service. The range of any wireless technology is dependent on the spectrum, with low-frequency spectrums having greater range than high-frequency spectrums.
- Cellular networks are built to cover large areas and dense deployments of users and are generally available countrywide, although they may provide the best service in urban areas.
- WiFi networks are generally limited to service within buildings and surrounding outdoor areas, although hotspots are used to provide WiFi access in many situations. But they also support dense deployments of users.
- LoRaWAN networks are built to cover medium areas (several square miles per gateway) and support dense deployments of sensors. As they operate in the unlicensed spectrum, these networks can be deployed anywhere.
- What about network resilience and performance? Your choice of technology should be determined by the throughput you require. Streaming of several high resolution video streams and AR/VR for remotely controlled operations require a low-latency, high-throughput network, whereas periodic text-based messages from sensors do not.
- Resiliency is also an important consideration. Wireless technologies for mobile applications have enhancement to help users and devices maintain their connection while roaming. These include mechanisms to switch between access points quickly and seamlessly, as well as to maintain multiple connections and replicate packets to reduce or eliminate the loss of data.
- The use case usually defines the criticality of maintaining communications while roaming or moving. In terms of availability and resiliency, an organization may prefer a network that it owns, operates, and controls, as it can more easily customize such a network to its unique requirements.
- If using a managed network, a Service-Level Agreement (SLA) should be defined and enforced with the service provider.
- Lastly, review cost of ownership and operations: Total cost of ownership of wireless includes the cost of equipment itself and spectrum if licensed (CapEx), the cost of managing it (OpEx), and any licensing or subscription fees that need to be paid (if a service provider is involved). This is one of the biggest variables between many of the wireless technologies. WiFi and Cisco URWB tend to have higher upfront (CapEx) costs, while cellular/5G tends to have higher operational costs (OpEx) due to the nature of the technology. LoRaWAN only supports periodic, low data rate transmissions so it has lower upfront, operational costs.
I hope this helps answer your questions on how to pick the right wireless for your organization. While it may seem daunting at first, don’t worry – it’s actually a pretty simple process. Plus, we’ve provided several additional resources below to help you. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, I’m glad to help.
- Whitepaper: Wireless for Government Operated Industrial Networks: How to choose the Best-Fit over a Force-Fit
- Blog: Use Cases for Wireless in Government
- Website: Cisco Solutions for State and Local Government
- Website: Cisco Solution for Federal Government