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Market Insight

Enterprises transform their access networks to remain competitive

September 11, 2019

Matthias Machowinski Matthias Machowinski Directing Analyst, Enterprise Networks and Video

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A major transformation is underway in enterprise access networks across North America as organizations revamp the workplace to become more agile and efficient.

With mobile technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) growing in use at work environments, companies are upgrading to the latest Wi-Fi protocols, beefing up network security, broadening network coverage, adding complementary wireless technologies, and switching to a cloud-based approach to manage networks.  

These are some of the findings that can be found in our new report, WLAN Strategies and Vendor Leadership, North American Enterprise Survey - 2019, which details the results of an IHS Markit survey earlier in May this year. Conducted among 169 enterprises in North America that use wireless local area networks (WLAN), the survey examined the access networks of medium- and large-sized companies and their plans to deliver workplace wireless internet connectivity.

Top WLAN changes being planned for networks

Among respondents, the biggest change planned for their WLAN networks in the next 12 months was the addition of more network capacity. With more users and devices utilizing wireless as their lone means of access, organizations recognized the importance of delivering high levels of service in Wi-Fi to prevent a decrease in user productivity.

In second place was security. Because they present hackers with a potential access point to internal networks and sensitive data, WLANs represent a security risk. And organizations are cognizant of the heavy toll to be paid in a cybersecurity breach and the catastrophic consequences that follow. As a result, companies are monitoring for rogue devices, enhancing client authentication, and deploying the latest security protocols to strengthen WLAN security and prevent unauthorized access to company resources.

Other important changes that respondents said they were planning this year included adding Wi-Fi coverage to new areas, expanding the use of cloud IT solutions and cloud-based Wi-Fi architectures, reducing networking costs in the face of tightening budgets, introducing artificial intelligence to minimize or eliminate manual intervention, and upgrading legacy networks for an improved experience on Wi-Fi, given the impending approach of lightning-fast 5G. 

The growth drivers to access network traffic are shown in the chart below.

Drivers of network traffic

The top driver of traffic on their networks, respondents said, was the IoT. A middling driver of network traffic for many years, IoT jumped to the top spot this year, a sign that IoT is finally coming of age.

Collaboration tools came in next, landing the runner-up spot. Collaboration tools like document sharing, presentation, and video conferencing are bandwidth intensive, but companies and virtual teams regard them as essential to productivity. IHS Markit research shows growing adoption of these tools, and their impact on the network is noticeable.

In third place was the Cloud, driven by new I.T. architectures, the embrace of public cloud services like Dropbox, and the adoption of smart devices that often rely on the Cloud for full functionality.

Other network traffic drivers included files, whose presence on the list reflects the pervasiveness of corporate software applications; productivity apps like spreadsheets and word processors, a new entry this year; and video content, no longer viewed as an inappropriate use of enterprise resources and instead is used today as a means of customer engagement and interaction.

Other findings

In polling the respondents, the survey also furnished plenty of clues as to where the WLAN market was headed.

The results of the survey show that the workplace of the future will not be in a single, fixed location. By 2021, over half of employees on average will spend most of their time away from their primary workstation. Such a phenomenon will have profound implications on workplace design, real estate assets, and technology investments. To remain productive, employees will need access to communication tools and information stores while on the go, all of which will benefit the WLAN market as companies seek to create flexible and mobile work environments. 

For their part, companies will continue to add more locations as part of a distributed workplace structure and as they seek to expand business or facilitate access to suppliers and customers.

The number of Wi-Fi access points will continue to grow, the survey indicated. Respondents expect to each deploy more than 150 access points on average by 2021.

While access points over the last 20 years have been dedicated devices that delivered strictly Wi-Fi connectivity, this has started to change in the past few years. Today, many vendors include integrated Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) antennas and radios, and a few vendors even support other protocols besides Wi-Fi, such as ZigBee and Thread. This presents a major shift and an acknowledgement that despite the tremendous success of Wi-Fi, the next wave of innovation will leverage additional wireless technologies to address Wi-Fi limitations in areas like power consumption and range.

In WLAN management, hardware-based controllers at individual sites are the dominant approach today. By 2021, however, cloud-based, subscription WLAN controllers will become the preferred method, the survey findings showed. A cloud-based approach is well suited for companies lacking the capital to make big equipment purchases, whose needs are evolving rapidly, or possess a highly distributed structure.  Meraki was an early proponent of this model but was acquired by Cisco in 2012, giving cloud-based WLAN management early credibility. Other manufacturers, including Aerohive and HPE Aruba from California’s Silicon Valley, and Huawei Technologies from China, have launched similar services.

As in previous years, Cisco was named by respondents as the top WLAN manufacturer by a wide margin. The choice by respondents matches market reality: Cisco is the world’s No. 1 enterprise networking manufacturer, commanding the lion’s share of the market for both wired and wireless Ethernet switching.

The report, WLAN Strategies and Vendor Leadership, North American Enterprise Survey - 2019, is offered in the Enterprise Networks & Communication research category, under the Enterprise & IT research service of IHS Markit | Technology, now a part of Informa Tech.

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