There is an increasing demand for wi-fi among consumers and users across the board, but can wi-fi really deliver returns for businesses? BEN WHITTAKER looks at how it can and should be put to good use in the corporate world.
Wi-fi has come a long way within a span of 15 years, from being a pipe dream to a ‘must-have’. Less than two decades ago, if you wanted to connect to the web you had to plug in an Ethernet cable and stay chained to your router.
The success of wi-fi illustrates just what can be achieved when the telecommunication regulators and technologists work together. Wi-fi itself seemed a remarkable development when one considers that at the turn of the millennium it was little more than a niche interest, spawned by an American government agency.
Originally, wi-fi was developed for mobile computing devices, such as laptops, but it is now extensively used for mobile applications and consumer electronics. Operating as a high-speed Internet connection and network connection without the use of any cables or wires, it provides consumers and businesses alike with freedom and flexibility that has proven ground-breaking.
And despite all these incredible benefits, the question still remains over whether wi-fi can really deliver return on investment (ROI) to businesses.
For many reading this article, it might seem an unlikely suggestion but the public appetite for wi-fi is tempered by their apparent unwillingness to pay for it. If it’s free they like it but if there is a charge associated to it then this becomes more of an issue. So the real question for companies looking to deploy wi-fi is, can it be justified and if so, how?
The Internet has become such a natural part of everyday life that many people cannot function without it. In recent years, social media has been the biggest driver and the mobile handset the primary aid to this endeavour.
And it isn’t enough just getting connected on one device. Many households have several computers, mobile phones, tablets, video and music streaming devices and games consoles that are all competing for simultaneous connections.
All of this comes at a cost, regularly packaged up in a bundle with landline and TV thrown in but we have come to expect that and consequently accept it.
However, the real problem arises when we step beyond the boundaries of our homes and need to connect to wi-fi outside of our mobile tariffs. Limits on data usage means that to avoid costly charges, mobile users generally seek out wi-fi connectivity for their phones and tablets as an alternative.
Wi-fi can not only justify its costs but also make money for a business, according to WDSI, a global networking company that specialises in connecting businesses of any size with the most up-to-date technology.
As industry leaders in its field, it has been a prominent player in the wi-fi space, with deployments in the UK, Europe, US, Asia and the Middle East, making it the go-to company for wi-fi requirements of any size and complexity. It is also an expert at large-scale wireless network design, build and commissioning for leading organisations in the telecommunications, stadiums, arenas, public transportation and defence industry.
WDSI’s key strengths lie in providing turnkey solutions for challenging specifications that require in-depth knowledge and experience to overcome. This approach has seen it develop numerous industry “firsts” with innovative designs of large-scale wi-fi networks.
Founders Andy Coney and Andrew Ramshaw briefly explain the ROI approach to business and how wi-fi can justify its costs.
“We live in an enlightened age,” Coney says. “One that demands instant access and the delivery of information immediately to any connected device. People expect to get online in more places at any time and the public appetite is the driving force behind it.”
Ramshaw says the hunger for social media is adding to that appetite. “In many cities around the world, we see requirements appearing in some of the most unusual places and these challenges continue to keep life interesting,” he says.
“Technology continues to advance at faster and faster rates, making what might have once been considered science fiction now very much a fact.
Coney adds: “With faster and faster speeds and increased network stability, everything from voice and video calls to high-definition streaming are now achievable everywhere. Consumers expect that level of connectivity to literally follow them around from location to location.”
Coney believes the wi-fi environment has changed over the last few years. “Wi-fi has gone from becoming a ‘nice to have’ to being a ‘must-have’ for both personal and business use.”
He says wi-fi equipment has evolved for better performance, which is trying to keep up with user demand.
“Design of reliable and robust wi-fi networks is becoming more specialised as business use has driven the requirement for mobility and reliance on information and services to work the same as if they were wired,” he says.
Of course, the real test for any business is to prove there is a true ROI model for wi-fi. WDSI demonstrated that at the UK’s Twickenham Stadium in London where it assisted with a major wi-fi project that helped justify a complete change of POS (point of sale) environment ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
On the corporate level, it has demonstrated in large buildings that wi-fi can reduce costs by allowing mobility for workers. WDSI has also worked with many banks and Fortune 500 companies in this space to ensure systems deliver on the promise.
Some of the more unusual places where WDSI has been asked to provide networking or wi-fi include The Emirates Air Line in London (public wi-fi), Emirates Stadium (Arsenal FC) and the rather special Glastonbury 4G Cows.
In the Middle East, WDSI has provided many professional services and recently designed tailor-made services for new-build stadiums.
Commenting on the difference of wi-fi delivery from a mobile operator, Coney says wi-fi is the de facto network for mobile data usage, therefore, “the importance of high-quality wi-fi design and delivery with managed services are crucial”.
Coney says the key issue while building a network is to consider the whole user case for wired and wireless and how this will evolve over a five- to 10-year period.
“The construction of the building will affect the design of both types of networks and could have limitations which are best overcome with professional design. The networks should be designed for capacity and robustness not just for now but for the decade ahead and how that can evolve.”
He says the quality of cabling is very important, and recommends the use of high quality cables, which typically would be Cat6 Ethernet cables and fibre. “This is investing in the future performance of the network and ensures sufficient capacity for future demand,” he says.
Planning is as important as materials used. In fact, Coney says it’s the most important element, as this is what drives the design to make high-performance networks. “Planning can be linked to requirements and in turn can be measured for capacity and performance. Materials need to be considered as part of the design as some can prohibit the optimum design.”
Coney says there are challenges when trying to bring networks and wi-fi to an older estate. “There are the usual challenges such as costs, retrofitting, old cabling, building materials that may be harder to deal with in terms of optimum design (versus a new build). More hardware may be needed as well as cabling due to the nature of the building versus a new-build optimum design.”
Amongst the significant advances on the horizon that businesses need to be aware of are upgrades for gigabit wi-fi (IEEE 802.11ac standard). There is also the much discussed ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), which will place an exponential demand on wireless and design of wireless networks, he says.
“Beyond this, the ability to connect lots of smart devices and data from fixed and mobile all need careful design and consideration to better facilitate the smart office, smart home, smart stadium and smart shopping mall,” says Coney.
The advantages of wi-fi are many: wireless laptops can be moved from one place to another place; wi-fi network communication devices without wire can reduce the cost of wires; wi-fi set-up and configuration is easier than the cabling process; it is completely safe and will not interfere with any network; and the internet can be connected to via hotspots wirelessly.
Wi-fi does have a few disadvantages as well, for example, wi-fi generates radiation which some believe can be harmful; the wi-fi connection must be disconnected whenever the server is not being used; there are limits to data transfer (we cannot transfer data for long distance); and implementing wi-fi is very expensive when compared to the wired connection.