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WiFi isn’t just business-critical – it has come of age
The WiFi Alliance was formed in 1999 to promote a better user experience for this new, burgeoning technology. Now, some 17 years on, WiFi is coming of age.
Looking back through the world of WiFi, even rewinding just three years would show that most companies operated no more than a corporate network. These were rolled out primarily for administrative purposes, to be used exclusively by staff and approved visitors. Only in certain cases was a public service extended out to consumer locations such as hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafes. Before long, this reliance on connectivity grew and everybody jumped on the public WiFi bandwagon. Businesses were ringing with the sound of: "You have to have WiFi, consumers expect it."
The first movers took something of a risk. Even though they knew that WiFi was a big attraction for consumers, there was no business case for it and very few – if any – realistically expected it to drive revenue. In fact most only offered connectivity for the kudos and potential competitive advantage that a ‘WiFi here’ sticker in their window would offer.
A glimpse of what was to come
Though results from this may have been slow in coming, these first movers did more than just gain consumer respect and put the squeeze on their competitors; they changed the entire way that companies view WiFi – and what the technology is capable of.
Virtually all of these first movers rolled out a public WiFi network that was completely separate from their corporate WiFi network. Possibly with safety in mind, they kept the two resolutely apart – one connection for their customers and another for the business. It served a purpose, that cannot be denied but it also paved the way for change.
Since then the world of business WiFi has changed. Whilst the old offering had its benefits, the reality was that companies would effectively run two networks, two lots of connectivity into their branches, pay two costs and have two networks to look after.
Now, companies have learned that there’s an alternative. Modern, sophisticated WiFi networks are converged, meaning corporate and public are run over the same infrastructure. A network such as this can even be used as a fail-over for the corporate wired LAN .
A secure fail-over
Take a hypothetical bank as an example. A disaster causes it to lose its entire network, meaning that the IT network throughout the buildings prove useless. Equally out of action are the billing systems, meaning that bank transactions and basically everything that helps the bank operate on a day-to-day basis, fails.
Thankfully, this bank runs a trusted WiFi network to a strict set of SLAs that can act as a failover for the corporate LAN. In the worst case scenario it would be able to run the entire company via WiFi – and moreover, it can do so in a way that’s also compliant with FCA regulations. Our bank has created a corporate, BYOD side to its WiFi offering, meaning employees can still get online through their individual devices.
The above scenario may not seem like it’s a world away from the two-tier WiFi offering prevalent just a few years ago, but it’s a huge development. It’s grown-up WiFi.
Any businesses looking to really do WiFi properly in today’s business world would do it this way. Corporate WiFi is business-critical, but converged corporate and public WiFi is a step beyond even this. The benefits speak for themselves: it saves money, can support a Disaster Recovery (DR) strategy, bolsters workplace agility, saves running two networks, reduces the supply chain, improves resilience and so much more.
The world has moved on since the days of just getting public WiFi “because everybody's doing it.” WiFi technology has also moved on. It’s come of age.