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The Human Factor: Indoor Wi-Fi and Cellular (LTE/5G) in Enterprise

In my prior role, before Corning, as a leader in global Infrastructure Architecture, our team’s User Experience (UX) goal was to create a Magic User Experience where IT services just functioned with minimal human intervention required. In the infrastructure arena, we focused on simplifing many dimensions of the UX to increase customer satisfaction.

So, you ask, what’s the point of this?

Well, in our industry, conversations around solving indoor wireless service issues and the potential options tend to devolve into technical discussions that completely miss the point of what people are wanting from wireless service and, secondarily, the whole set of business costs that cascade from IT’s technology mix decisions.

Let’s set the stage by asking what do the people want from our wireless services? It’s simply this: Employees, contractors, and guests are seeking reliable and fast service for their mobile devices and laptops throughout the facilities. With the guiding principle, from a customer satisfaction perspective, that these services are available without any special steps required.

As IT decides on the technology mix to solve cellular mobility issues, there are two options at the top of the list:

  1. Use Wi-Fi for all indoor wireless
      - Assume investment in required network upgrades, tools, processes, and people.
      - IT Role: assume direct operational support for all mobile devices indoors.

  2. Keep devices on their native networks (LTE/5G cellular or Wi-Fi)
     - Assume investment in indoor small cells or DAS to provide LTE/5G coverage.
     - IT Role: assume an oversight role for cellular improvement operations.
     

I’ve been in many conversations/debates around the two available options and have observed that the actual burden of direct operational support for the “use Wi-Fi for all” is either not considered or is underestimated. I’ll begin with a story:

A company’s CIO was directly approached by their enterprise infrastructure vendor to adopt Wi-Fi for indoor cellular device support. The pitch made sense to him around leveraging a single network for laptops and mobility, so he asked for his Infrastructure team’s opinion. The opening question presented was “do you want all 12,000 employees on this campus to know they can call IT for dropped calls?” As they explained that doubling the amount of devices attached to the enterprise network would require headcount and technology refresh funding along with the political liability of owning indoor cellular issues, the idea kind of died right there. From a political liability perspective, when powerful non-technical business people had issues, they escalated to the CIO so end user facing services like cellular mobility had to be rock solid and trouble free. With these factors in mind, IT made a strategic decision to add indoor cellular service improvements to the campus buildings as it was the least support-intensive decision for IT operation and didn’t require additional IT headcount.

Not convinced yet? Let’s move on. Since most medium-large enterprises don’t launch new services without making sure their technology and support infrastructures are ready, let’s compare a few areas of concern that need planning work:

Areas of Concern Cellular (LTE/5G) Mobile devices on Wi-Fi
Active Calls + Active calls have >99% success rate when walking around inside, entering, or leaving a cellular enabled building + Do handovers work between in-building APs?
+ Do handovers work to/from cellular network?
+ Note: Handover failures >5% usually trigger service complaints
Configuration No configuration required + Configuration lifecycle management development
+ What supported devices and operating system releases?
Information Security

+ Mobile device is outside enterprise network

+ App VPN enters through Internet “front door”

+ Malware infected mobile devices on Wi-Fi can enable undetected remote access via the LTE/5G connection
+ Especially concerning in flat networks where user devices can “see” each other and into the data center(s)
Mobile Device Functionality All apps and full Internet access operate as expected Enterprise firewall may prevent apps from operating or block full Internet access
Voice Calling Support Normal + VPN firewall rules may be prohibited by Information Security
+ Internet congestion into enterprise can disrupt voice calls
IT Responsibility Minimal, limited vendor management   + Total responsibility for the entire cellular “last mile” of service throughout the building(s)
+ Service desk setup, knowledge base development, and training
+ Network engineer duties
+ Deskside support engineer duties
+ Internet Firewall/border duties
Designed for Mobility Yes + Explicit voice support design work is required on Wi-Fi networks
+ Project budgets to be developed along with seeking funding

Key Takeaway:
With 80% of mobile usage taking place indoors and mobile owners asking for trouble-free service everywhere, is it really “free” to the enterprise to support enterprise cellular mobility on Wi-Fi? While Wi-Fi is a very comfortable universe, sometimes we can underestimate the cost of responsibly implementing a cellular device mobility strategy on top of Wi-Fi.

Summary
Tying back to the UX goal of the Magic User Experience, and at this moment in the evolution of wireless technology, we can conclude that cellular devices operate best and most trouble free to all concerned on their native networks. While this may change in the future as cellular and Wi-Fi technologies continue to borrow from each other, the most practical and trouble-free solution today to solving cellular mobility is LTE/5G.

We have created a summary infographic that you can access below. It provides an at-a-glance list of considerations to aid in the enterprise IT planning processes.

Want to learn more about Corning indoor systems?
 

Art King is part of the IBN Technologies group for Corning Optical Communications. A 20-year veteran of both global enterprise IT and the cellular industry, Art’s long term vision of wireless as “digital oxygen” that enables a totally unwired world is happening around us now.