When talking about connectivity, let's first consider the various forms of connecting. Many organizations have the ability to offer Wi-Fi to clients locally, while either leveraging LTE/5G to the mobile network for uplinks or broadband Internet connections.
The following outlines the various forms of connection, along with a few considerations around each.
Smartphones and tablets
Most smartphones and many tablets have the ability to setup a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot for a small number of other devices. This can be incredibly valuable in cases where no other options are available and there is a need to connect devices like laptops to the internet.
The downsides are they are dependent on the battery life of the device, and are only capable of supporting a small number of devices. But they can be a flexible temporary solution.
Similar to smartphones and tablets, many mobile service providers have the option for a Mi-Fi device which provides a battery powered Wi-Fi hotspot. The same advantages and disadvantages apply as above.
Consumer wireless routers
Many homes have access to broadband internet, including a consumer wireless router or one that is integrated into the broadband modem itself. For students and cases where it is acceptable to have a basic experience and home office, definitely leverage what you have to immediately get started.
For advanced users, it is possible to configure these devices to provide differentiated service levels, for example prioritizing business traffic over video gaming traffic. The downside is they are not an extension of the organization’s network so you will need another way to securely access the business applications at your organization’s location.
Enterprise Wi-Fi extension
One option that is not widely known is called “Wi-Fi Extension,” which is the ability to extend the organization’s Wi-Fi into remote or home locations. Internet access is required, and by providing one of the organization’s wireless APs, setup appropriately can be connected to the Internet, will “tunnel” back to the organization’s Wi-Fi controller and establish connection.
The key advantages of Wi-Fi Extension are the rapid extension of the organization’s central Wi-Fi to remote locations, giving users and devices the exact same authentication and experience as if they were working at the organization. The same SSID(s) can be presented, and the same login credentials and process can be followed. An added benefit is the ability to only permit employees to connect while restricting others in the remote location. Essentially this model acts like a branch office for the organization.
The downsides of this approach are it provides only Wi-Fi access, so wired access is needed for an IP phone, video conferencing unit or other desktop PC that does not support Wi-Fi. This model also means IT will have to manage potentially many more APs, but it can be a flexible way to quickly extend the organization’s network.
Enterprise wireless routers
When more than Wi-Fi is needed — for example the need to connect IP phones, video units or desktop PCs with only wired access — a good solution is to place an enterprise-grade wireless router in the location. This can be managed by the organization or a managed service provider.
Similar to Wi-Fi extension, it is possible to provide the same SSID(s) of the organization and give users the same login and authentication experience they are familiar with. The advantages of this approach include the ability to connect devices like IP phones and video units, including providing power over Ethernet (PoE) in many cases, which provides an easy setup for users. In addition, it is common to configure Quality of Service (QoS) on the wireless router to guarantee voice and video quality, prioritizing these applications over web traffic.
This model can be leveraged in a variety of ways, including providing a familiar home office experience and standardized and high quality home agents for remote call centers, as well as predictable experiences for healthcare workers conducting telehealth visits with patients.
The main disadvantages of this model is it requires more planning and setup, but there are methods to configure at mass scale to quickly spin up many locations.
In cases where Internet access does not already exist or is difficult to obtain, a great option is to leverage LTE (or 5G) gateways. The gateways leverage the mobile data networks to provide mobile or portable access to the Internet.
This can be very useful for students without Internet access, at improvised treatment centers where there is not readily available Internet access (for example a parking lot) or where there's a need for portability.
The gateways come in two forms: modular and integrated. Modular gateways can be attached via Ethernet to many other devices like a wireless AP or wireless router to convert an LTE (or 5G) connection to an Ethernet uplink. There are also many options available that provide LTE gateways directly integrated into wireless routers.
The integrated Wi-Fi/LTE router can be a very versatile model to quickly instantiate network connectivity, regardless of the location, providing Wi-Fi and wired access to several devices and users. Sizing depends on the device, and there are solutions from a single person up to a dozen or more who can share the connectivity. In addition, it is possible to connect a small number of devices needing wired access such as IP phones, video units or desktop PCs.
Several options on the market can support multiple LTE (or 5G) connections simultaneously to provide more bandwidth and connection diversity, which can provide more reliability. Connections are driven by inserting SIM(s) into the gateways with subscriptions to one or more mobile operators. This can be ideal when more than one person needs access or when multiple wired IP phones and video units are needed, such as at an improvised treatment center.
There are even options for powering this model with a battery, as well as packaging in a case form factor for situations where ultimate portability is needed and power is not readily available.
The main disadvantages of this approach are the need to manage multiple mobile LTE (or 5G) subscriptions and SIMs. Another disadvantage is that the integrated Wi-Fi/LTE routers tend to be more expensive than wireless routers, as they have more essential hardware and antennas to provide both the Wi-Fi for local clients as well as LTE (or 5G) for uplink Internet access.
How we can help
WWT can help organizations rapidly plan, deploy and operate remote and home offices. We provide rapid scoping to help you choose the option(s) that best fit your use cases and scenarios. We also have the ability to help deploy at scale in thousands of locations by leveraging automated configuration and our world-class logistics centers. Finally, we offer managed services to extend your IT organization including monitoring, troubleshooting and taking support calls.
These services are not something we’ve just created. We’ve been doing it for many customers for years, including rapidly deploying over 3000 clinic networks for major healthcare organizations. Let us help you with your urgent network connectivity needs. Contact us to get started.