As companies lay out and refine their mobility strategy, it's important to focus on what matters most now.
But, first, here's what should not be on your mobility strategy radar for 2019: It will most certainly not be the year of 802.11ax, and 5G cellular. While both of these technologies are exciting and intriguing--and while both will see increasing installations in 2019 and long-term success--the uptake of these latest advances in major technologies will be slower than many analysts think and certainly slower than generational transitions of this form have traditionally been.
The reason for this is simple: These new technologies (and the products based on them), while certainly embodying improvements over what’s installed and commonly available today, do not represent enough of an improvement in performance to justify immediate new investment on the part of end users. It would hard to imagine, for example, very many rip-and-replacements of 802.11ac or, really, even 802.11n just to upgrade to 802.11ax. The per-user improvement in throughput and thus capacity is insufficient to justify the update.
Many organizations will be able to get by this year via improvements in Ethernet-switch capacity, enhanced management facilities (including analytics and rapidly emerging artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions), adding a few more APs to increase density, and related tweaks, with gradual additions to and eventual replacement of APs based on older technologies over a number of years.
Perhaps even more important, we’re not expecting large numbers of client devices equipped with .11ax in 2019, either, with these actually rolling out over at least two technology generations over the next four to five years. And it’s the same situation for 5G, with the uptake of services depending upon the mass availability of mobile devices--handsets, tablets and notebooks--equipped with 5G modems. Again, this is a long-wave effect, but no worries: 5G will in many cases provide 4G users with backward compatibility and, depending upon the specifics of given carrier deployments, at least a modest enhancement in performance.
So, for IT organizations everywhere, the real near-term opportunity is rethinking budgets, putting in place multi-year strategic plans and further enhancing alignment with overall organizational objectives--with these incremental enhancements and refinements in general substituting for otherwise (and typically) required large new capital purchases.
With all that said, within five to seven years, everyone will be using 802.11ax (and possibly 802.11ad, .11ay and beyond, as various groups with IEEE 802.11 are already hard at work on what’s next), and almost everyone in a developed economy will have a 5G-capable mobile device.
What’s really important right now in wireless and mobile? Here are few thoughts, based on our work during the past year or so:
Unified management: Having a network that can literally be managed from anywhere via a handset should be a goal for almost every organization in 2019, with the possible exception of some government operations. And this means unified management--the ability to manage both the wired and wireless elements within a single context, and not as separate networks. Unified management eliminates the possibility of different policies and settings beating against one another and eliminates redundancies (especially management database redundancies), simplifying planning, installation and, perhaps most importantly, troubleshooting. Unified management optimizes the productivity not just of operations staff, but also of end users.
Analytics and automation: Analytics--the ability to evaluate large volumes of disparate data quickly--will rapidly become a standard capability in large and many midsize installations in 2019, having now proven itself in many networks across the planet. Further, tools based on artificial intelligence and machine learning will also see rapidly growing installed bases. The availability of such tools is one reason why we believe many organizations will delay the purchasing new hardware that, again, has been the traditional solution to performance and reliability challenges.
Ease of use: We generally think of ease of use as applicable only to end users, but, as you might guess from the discussion above, such is also important for IT and network operations staff. The key here, as Thoreau reminds us, is simplify: Look for opportunities to do just that across the network and the services it supports. Doing so will help to minimize support and many other costs enormously. Update that documentation you’ve been meaning to get to. Eliminate redundancies and streamline procedures. And, if you’re still programming your routers via a CLI, well, maybe now is a good opportunity to move on from that at last.
It really is all about the apps (finally): The really good news is that wireless services have achieved a level of reliability, capacity and availability that has removed any doubt about Wi-Fi and cellular to handle literally any application. Wire, really? Who needs it? And there’s a good deal of work underway to further enhance these technologies for IoT and the vast volume of traffic and nodes that will accompany the deployment of applications based on that concept. It’s hard to imagine, but the wholesale replacement of wire--except perhaps in WANs, of course--is here.
In other words, now’s the time to make the most of what you have before embarking on that next big upgrade.
But there are two more issues and opportunities that deserve consideration: The first is mobile unified communications (MUC), which has the potential to reshape the provisioning and management of all organizational communications going forward. The second is what we view as an inevitable transition to networking and, really, almost all of IT as a service (NaaS/ITaaS and especially Mobility as a Service), with services assuming a role in 2019 far greater than many might have predicated even just a few years ago.
We'll report and analyze more on these topics in the year (and, likely, years) ahead.