Part 3: WWAN Transforms Retail Networking at the Edge
In Part 2 of this series (Retail Connectivity: Asking the Right Questions), I offered a number of questions for retail enterprise IT managers to consider when looking for retail connectivity solutions. In this post, I’ll focus on one of those solutions: Wireless Wide Area Networks (WWAN). Historically, retailers have struggled with justifying the cost of their store network—even for their own use. Just a few years ago it was a struggle for retailers to spend the money to provide free Internet to their customers. Since then, retailers have learned a couple of things:
1. Guest WiFi is no longer a choice: it is a requirement. Customers simply demand that the stores they frequent give them the ability to check mail and communicate with friends, shop online, and compare prices.
2. In-store networks are an added expense, but... they more than pay for themselves by improving the customer experience, providing new advertising channels, and increasing revenue.
To see why WWAN makes sense for large distributed retail enterprises, let’s revisit the questions from Part 2:
As I mentioned in Part 2, retail network downtime can be very costly in terms of lost revenue, loss of access to cloud-based services such as PCI compliance and security, and damage to the brand’s reputation. The best way to prevent downtime is to have a failover solution in place. Some stores accomplish this by having two wires installed: If one gets cut or breaks, they can switch over to the other one. The problem, of course, is that if one wire is cut the odds are that the other one will be too. Cradlepoint delivers a wireless failover solution either as a back up to a store’s primary wired connection, or by configuring its wireless devices to switch from one cellular carrier to another. In either case, with WWAN, network connectivity is restored in a matter of minutes or hours instead of days or weeks.
WWAN speeds deployment in a number of ways. First, wireless devices can be preconfigured en masse either at IT headquarters or via a central network management control such as Cradlepoint NetCloud Manager. Then, once the devices arrive at store locations, it is easy for untrained staff to install them: simply plug them in and turn them on. Compare this to what a store must go through to have a local provider install a wired connection.
In terms of agility, wireless gives retail IT managers the flexibility to put network connectivity right where it is needed: in the main store, in outbuildings, even for use in mobile environments or pop-up locations.
The use of wireless instead of wired connectivity puts complete control of the deployment in the hands of the retail enterprise. If the company decides to create separate networks for guest WiFi, third-party vendors, or staff, it can simply add another device. Hackers often enter through a less-well-defended network segment and then pivot to the main network. WiFi makes it easy to implement “Parallel Networking" that physically separates one network from another to defend against pivot attacks.
Last year enterprise security experts discovered that, once hackers are able to break into less protected monolithic network segments, they can quickly “pivot” to access segments that contain valuable information. The result has been catastrophic for some of the biggest names in retailing.
Central Deployment & Troubleshooting
The more locations a retail enterprise connects to their network the harder it can be to manage the network without a centralized control system. Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager provides a single pane through which IT managers can configure, monitor, and manage all of the devices on their network. This is critical for companies with hundreds or thousands of locations. Experts predict that more intrusions will take place at the retail branch level - the Edge locations. Hackers assume that since individual locations typically lack onsite IT support that these stores make easy targets. Central control enables corporate IT to quickly spot and mitigate attacks at the Edge.
Unified Threat Management
Having Unified Threat Management means that you have in place a comprehensive intrusion detection/ intrusion prevention system. Using NetCloud Manager, companies can deploy our CP Secure Threat Management application, which includes:
- IPS/IDS engine with deep visibility to network packets for powerful protection against both server-side and client-side vulnerabilities.
- Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
- Signature matching from Trend Micro’s large database of known threats.
- Anomaly traffic detection and prevention.
- Malware protection.
- Intelligent, automatic signature updates that minimize data usage.
Cradlepoint also partners with Zscaler Internet Security to make sure retail enterprises can connect to the Internet with complete confidence.
A breach of customer data is one of the worst things that can happen to a retail enterprise. Cradlepoint WWAN routers enable Parallel Networking, which keeps credit card and other sensitive data physically separate from other non-critical applications and third-party networks.
Changing Demand for Bandwidth
Bandwidth demand at the Edge can be met by adding new network capacity and by optimizing the use of current capacity. WWAN technology makes it easy to add new, Parallel Networks to connect outbuildings or pop-up locations, new devices, and new services. NetCloud Manager puts information and control that IT Managers need to monitor and balance data usage across all their retail locations.
Total Cost of Ownership
I mentioned in Part 2 some of the cost of retail connectivity at the Edge including hardware, software, setup, training, data usage, network monitoring, and business continuity preparedness. No matter which cost center you look at, 3G/4G/LTE WWAN can deliver the services retail enterprises need both at a lower total cost of ownership and a fast speed-to-deployment. Whether used as a primary “Cut-the-Wire” solution or for failover, Cradlepoint provides the reliability, bandwidth, and security necessary for today’s distributed enterprise.
In the next parts of this series, we will take a closer look at instant networks and pop-up stores. Specifically, we’ll examine:
- Why so many retail enterprises have made pop-up/mobile stores central to their corporate strategies and where consumers are likely to find them.
- The unique problems pop-up stores pose to corporate IT departments and how wireless network solutions solve those problems.
- A “cheat sheet” of pop-up technology and how to launch a retail pop-up store.