Network Architecture Transformation: From Wired to Wireless

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With the increasing breadth of the Internet of Things – and number of connected devices resulting from it – wireless has quickly become the dominant network access technology. Indeed, by 2020, there will be 20 billion devices connected globally, and of those 4.4 billion will be connected within buildings (Gartner).

With no sign of this trend diminishing, LAN architectures and cabling designs need a transformation in order to accommodate the ever-expanding need for network access across many different applications.

Advantages and benefits

LAN architectures have remained essentially unchanged since the late 1990s, so why change LAN architectures now? Apart from ensuring a future-ready network that can support the direction of technology and applications growth, there are financial advantages to a wireless LAN. The installation of fibre in both the vertical and the horizontal has the potential to lower installation cost when compared to traditional cable designs, which has fibre in the riser but copper in the horizontal. For example, the cost of installing a wireless LAN with fibre in both pathways is significantly less than the traditional architecture.

In addition to the financial advantages, the installation time of a wireless LAN architecture can be reduced by as much as one-third when compared to traditional cable, and fewer support costs, such as reducing space. Fewer and smaller intermediate distribution frames (IDFs) create an overall smaller footprint, which opens up more physical space and therefore more cost savings.  

While cost and conveniences – along with the ultimate long-term benefits – play an important factor in the decision-making process, the transition to a wireless LAN offers immediate benefits. The scalability of the architecture makes it possible to meet various degrees of network needs, and offers increased LAN bandwidth that is particularly crucial for MACs and edge devices. With fewer ports exposed, the connectivity is more secure than current cabling architectures.

Which environment is best to deploy?

These benefits and capabilities, however, are not exclusive to a certain type of environment; the move away from end-to-end copper in the horizontal and toward composite cable, made up of fibre and copper, fits a range of facilities. Hospitals, large venues such as convention centres and stadiums, hospitality, school campuses, various office spaces, and research labs can all benefit – and should.

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A great example of this is in research & development facilities, such as Sullivan Park. Sullivan Park is the central location for Corning’s research and development efforts, including a global network of smaller laboratories throughout Asia and Europe. The campus is home to some of the world’s leading experts in glass, material science, optical physics, and process engineering with its employee base representing more than 40 countries.

Benefits to the end-user

Collaboration across all fronts, especially in today’s digital age, is foundational to most business successes. At Sullivan Park in particular, collaboration is achieved through electronic lab notebooks and interactive video. Having all wireless access is a necessary requirement.

Within this video environment is high-speed, high-definition video control systems and high-performance computing modelling and simulation, which require dormant network capacity demand. The facility itself is a complex environment with both new and legacy lab systems, research equipment of all kinds, and sensitive and critical control systems. The LAN architecture needs to be able to support all aspects of different needs, and enable a range of technologies from varying generations.

From an external business perspective, the facility provides tours for visitors ranging from customers and suppliers to national labs and universities. The performance of showcase technologies and demos displayed for an external audience can have a lasting impact on impression and possibly affect business. Sullivan Park has experienced generations of cabling LAN technologies over the last few decades, including DNA and SNA coax, thin, thick and twisted pair, Cat 5 and fibre to the desk, and more recently, cellular wireless and Wi-Fi. However, this trend of implementing a twisted pair network alongside separate cellular services creates distance, capacity, space, and cost challenges that will not ultimately help Sullivan Park – or any other organisation looking to be collaborative and high performing – effectively achieve goals.

A unified network that runs everything from a single architecture is no longer the technology of tomorrow – but of today. Inserting fibre in the vertical and the horizontal, and including cabled networks only where necessary, is today’s network architecture for tomorrow’s technologies. An organisation’s ability to meet business expectations should be empowered by its LAN architecture, regardless of whether it is an R&D facility like Sullivan Park, a hospital or university.

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