Whether an organization is trying to connect home workers, home agents, healthcare workers or students, there are a number of options to remotely and safely connect users to a network. From local Wi-Fi hotspots to LTE/5G gateways, organizations have options to choose from.
Most smartphones and many tablets offer the ability to set up a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot for a small number of separate devices. This can be incredibly valuable in cases where no other options are available and you need to connect devices like laptops to the internet.
Similarly, many mobile service providers offer Mi-Fi devices. Mi-Fi is a brand name used to describe a wireless router that acts as a battery-powered mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.
The downside? Smartphone, tablets and Mi-Fi devices are all dependent on battery life and are only capable of supporting a small number of devices. But they can be a flexible, if temporary, solution.
Many homes have access to broadband internet, usually through a consumer wireless router or one that's integrated into the broadband modem itself. For students, and in other basic use cases where it's acceptable to have a home office, definitely leverage the technology you have to get immediately started.
For advanced users, it's possible to configure these devices to provide differentiated service levels (e.g., prioritizing business traffic over video game traffic). The downside? Consumer wireless routers are not an extension of the organization’s network, meaning you'll need another way to securely access the business applications at your organization’s location.
Wi-Fi extension is a lesser known option that extends an organization’s Wi-Fi to remote or home locations. Assuming internet access, organizations can use solutions, such as the Cisco 9000 Series, Cisco Meraki MR36/46/56 or Aruba 500 Series Access Points, to provide employees with configured wireless APs that “tunnel” back to the organization's Wi-Fi controller. Some organizations have leveraged either spare inventory or older generation APs that they recently replaced with newer APs.
Advantages include the rapid extension of central Wi-Fi to remote locations, and users get the same authentication options and experience they'd experience on-site. Organizations can also limit connection to employees while restricting access to others in the same remote location.
The downside? This approach only provides Wi-Fi access, meaning it doesn't include the wired access needed for IP phones, video units or desktops that don't support Wi-Fi. This approach also means IT will have to manage more APs. Regardless, it can be a flexible way to quickly extend an organization’s network.
If wired access is needed, enterprise-grade wireless routers, such as the Cisco 1100 Series Wireless Router or Cisco Meraki MX64W/67W/68W Cloud Managed Wireless Routers, are a good solution that organizations or managed service providers can deploy and manage.
Similar to Wi-Fi extension, users can get the same login and authentication experience. This model can be leveraged in a variety of ways, including providing a familiar home office experience, standardized and high quality home agents for remote call centers, and predictable experiences for healthcare workers conducting Telehealth with patients.
Advantages include the ability to connect devices like IP phones and video units, including providing Power over Ethernet (PoE) in many cases, which makes set up easy for users. In addition, it's common to configure Quality of Service (QoS) on the wireless router to guarantee voice and video quality, prioritizing these applications over web traffic. Disadvantages include requiring more planning and set up, but there are methods to configure at mass scale to quickly spin up many locations.
In cases where internet access doesn't already exist or is difficult to obtain, LTE or 5G gateways are a great option. Solutions, such as the Cisco 1100 Series Wireless Router with LTE Module, the Cisco Meraki MG21 Cloud Managed Cellular Gateway or Cradlepoint IBR900 Series Mobile Router, leverage mobile data networks to provide mobile or portable internet access. Use cases include students without internet access, improvised treatment centers in unexpected locations (e.g., parking lots), or where there is a need for portability.
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. Integrated gateways can be a very versatile way to quickly instantiate network connectivity, regardless of the location, providing Wi-Fi and wired access to several devices and users.
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. This can be ideal when more than one person needs access or when multiple wired IP phones and video units are needed, such as with an improvised treatment center.
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