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By: Chuck Lukaszewski, Vice President and Chief Wireless Technologist at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.
The network edge, especially mobile access, remains an area of focus for network planners as applications and communications continue to not only proliferate, but require improved security, performance, and resiliency. Today’s enterprises operate multiple radio access networks (RANs) to meet specific business requirements. For example, manufacturing plants increasingly deploy Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and private cellular on the assembly line, working together to connect an incredibly diverse range of endpoints.
An automotive assembly line may have hundreds of Bluetooth and Zigbee connected smart tools that store information about each car as it moves down the line, while the car itself is active on the Wi-Fi network downloading firmware to various car subsystems. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi is used to connect cameras performing optical quality inspection and supporting ruggedized mobile data terminals used by employees.
In healthcare, the hospital is one of the most wirelessly connected buildings on earth, employing Wi-Fi for clinical and patient data access; Bluetooth for patient wayfinding and smart medical device telemetry; cellular distributed antenna systems (DAS) for high-quality in-building 4G/5G service from multiple operators, and wireless medical telemetry (WMTS) for medical devices. What I call the “multi-RAN” enterprise is already very real, and over the next few years it will permeate across businesses of all size. IT architects have an increasingly rich toolbox of RAN networks to solve business problems that have widely divergent requirements for speed, latency, geographic coverage, and cost.
Figure 1 – The Multi-RAN Enterprise
In this world we now have the arrival of enormous 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi use, known as Wi-Fi 6E. Six GHz continues to gain momentum across the globe as more than 40 countries have taken a legal decision to open the band, with a further 30 countries expected to act by the end of this year. The amount of new spectrum made available for Wi-Fi is truly unprecedented – up to 1200 MHz in most countries in the Americas, and up to 500 MHz for European countries. This represents an increase in Wi-Fi capacity of as much as three times above what was available over the past 20 years, which will unleash incredible new use cases. Meanwhile, new devices are emerging that support Wi-Fi 6E, including the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra handset, the rumored iPhone 13, and many more. With the expansion of 6GHz, businesses now have access to three separate bands, helping reduce congestion as organizations contend with a growing avalanche of IoT devices coming onto the network, primarily by leveraging Wi-Fi 6E for client devices and other mission-critical functions. This new spectrum will complement existing RANs mentioned above.
Enterprise organizations can leverage each of these RAN technologies as required for the business, to not only maximize wireless connectivity across the network, but to improve performance, user experience, and productivity.
Private Cellular Networks – The CBRS spectrum shows great promise in simplifying the twin intractable problems for private cellular networks: access to spectrum and consolidating multiple mobile network operators into a single-layer infrastructure. In short, privately-owned 4G/5G wireless networks based on the CBRS spectrum provide specific performance and cost characteristics to serve specific application use cases or groups of end-user devices, such as medical devices or portable scan guns found in warehouses and retail environments.
Through Aruba’s partnership with Celona, Aruba can deliver a full role-based, policy-driven solution for enterprise-owned 4G/5G RANs. This vision enables the integration of privately-owned cellular RANs with existing enterprise networks including WLAN, LAN, SD-WAN, and other domains under a single unified policy framework.
Bluetooth and Zigbee – Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tags in unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum are being used for an array of IoT devices, asset tracking, and way-finding applications. Other modes of wireless connectivity include Zigbee, Thread, ISA100, and WirelessHART – all based on the 802.15.4 standard using unlicensed 2.4 GHz or 900 MHz spectrum – have become de facto in-building IoT access networks. In essence, network administrators now have more options to distribute network loads from various devices through the appropriate wireless spectrum.
Public Cellular Network Integration – Aruba also offers an integrated cellular experience by providing automatic Wi-Fi offloading onto enterprise networks. The Aruba Air Pass™ service enables Wi-Fi enabled devices with SIM credentials from major cellular network operators to automatically connect to enterprise networks. The combination of the Aruba Air Pass service, Passpoint authentication, and Wi-Fi Calling enables robust in-building and campus cellular coverage, delivered over Wi-Fi. And now with the Aruba 630 Series Wi-Fi 6E AP, cellular data can offload to the network while taking advantage of the benefits available within the 6 GHz spectrum.
A Multi-RAN Approach Provides Flexibility and Resiliency
Aruba believes there is no one-size-fits-all answer to access-layer connectivity at the edge, as network architects require flexibility to determine the most effective RAN program. That’s why Aruba is committed to a holistic approach that integrates cellular and non-cellular technologies that can match the needs of most organizations.