Wi-Fi or Cellular: Is there one true medium for mobility?
With 3G cellular service becoming more pervasive both in the United States and across the globe, organizations often ask the question: Do I need Wi-Fi as part of my mobility strategy? The right answer is to use both Wi-Fi and cellular networks as valuable tools for mobilizing your workforce. Wi-Fi is useful when your organization needs more dedicated mobile bandwidth and wants to support high bandwidth enterprise tools like video. We’re all aware of the role that video has taken on the Internet: According to the comScore Video Metrix, 78.5% of US Internet users had viewed Internet video and over 14.3 billion videos were viewed by US users over the Internet in December 2008 alone. Within the enterprise, the consumption of video is expected to more than double by 2010, according to IDC. Video is clearly here to stay as a dominant media type on today’s networks and Wi-Fi is the medium to mobilize it within the enterprise. Of course, cellular networks still play a role in mobilizing the enterprise. Cellular networks are useful when you need connectivity beyond building and campus boundaries. But, cellular networks can be challenged in supporting high bandwidth applications such as video. Like Wi-Fi, cellular networks share available bandwidth across a cell. However, the sizes of cells are also far larger and there are far more users accessing the network with cellular networks compared to Wi-Fi. This makes the available bandwidth per user on a cellular network lower compared Wi-Fi and when many users want to use cellular data services at the same time, the cellular network can easily become saturated. For instance, at recent high-attendee events like the Bonnaroo and music festival and the CTIA and Interop trade shows, I noticed that, despite efforts to improve cellular density and add capacity, data services and even voice service ground to a halt because of the sheer number of people trying to access the network at the same time. Recent events show that operators may be reevaluating how they will support video and other high bandwidth applications in the future because of some of these factors. Enterprise Wi-Fi networks, on the other hand, allow organizations to be in much better control of the mobility experience within their organization. And when technology like 802.11n is used, the Wi-Fi network can be robust enough in both throughput as well as coverage to power applications that use voice, video and other collaborative technologies. If capacity issues become apparent, an organization can easily add another access point. If interference becomes a problem, the organization can let their network adapt and adjust to changing conditions using technologies like M-Drive. Wi-Fi networks need not be limited to the indoors as well; Wi-Fi can be provided outdoors as well to provide campus wide connectivity while cellular is used beyond the reach of the enterprise campus. At the end of the day, think of mobility networks as tools. You would never think that a hammer could be the be all, end all tool for your tool box. Likewise, neither Wi-Fi nor cellular is the one true answer for mobile connectivity. The right strategy is to use Wi-Fi as a primary mobile connectivity medium within the organization and then turn to the cellular network when connectivity is needed outside the organization. While organizationally you will have to decide to support both networks, technologies like Mobile Intelligent Roaming will help to ensure that the interplay between Wi-Fi and cellular becomes more seamless from a user perspective. As the experience between Wi-Fi and cellular becomes more seamless, the key for enterprises will be to manage the co-existence of these networks, ensure that the right resources are available to users across both cellular and Wi-Fi and that devices are properly secured and managed as they move in and outside of the enterprise.