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How to evolve your WAN strategies to deal with the new normal

Todd Krautkremer

How to evolve your WAN strategies to deal with the new normal

From remote work to contactless technologies and pop-ups, organizations are using LTE solutions to help change how business is done

In March of this year, hundreds of thousands of companies across the globe found themselves sending employees home and directing them to work remotely, either voluntarily adopting social distancing practices or complying with state and local stay-at-home orders. The transformation came swiftly and on a dramatic scale; many offices emptied as companies large and small experienced teleworking, sometimes for the first time.

Not all IT departments had in place comprehensive remote work plans that took into consideration how to ensure access, security, and continuity for as many locations as there are employees. Given the sudden nature of the changes, improvisation and resourcefulness carried the day for many organizations, and implementation has often been a baptism by fire. Some workers may be quick to note that the transition has been fraught with challenges, including competition for bandwidth with a working spouse/partner/roommate or kids logging on for remote learning, flaky home connections, and sometimes comical blunders with video conferencing platforms.

Even with imperfect solutions and workers making do with what they have at home, there is much discussion amongst a broad swath of industries that our current, COVID-driven reality may evolve into the “new normal.” Business owners and company executives — many seeing for the first time that productivity doesn’t necessarily suffer when workers operate outside the office — are starting to consider whether the traditional notion of an office could be reimagined based on learnings during the quarantine.

With the U.S. and other countries gradually “reopening” for business, public health officials have warned that a COVID-19 resurgence could very well take place in the second half of the year. Enterprises are thus left to consider how best to re-engineer workplaces to maintain safe distances and protect the health of workers. Second, given looming uncertainty, many organizations will be using various hybrid models of work, gradually returning some employees to the office while keeping others working remotely, perhaps on a rotational basis. With enterprise WANs now extending beyond the traditional branch office to the home, pop-ups, parking lots, and temporary facilities, organizations need sustainable and manageable remote worker solutions that are reliable, secure, and industry compliant (e.g., PCI DSS).

Below we examine different scenarios and industries and the implications of this new normal for connectivity, security, and overall operations.

Return to Work

Companies and commercial property owners are obligated to help protect workers return to the office safely. CDC recommendations include implementing health monitoring (i.e., temperature checks), monitoring occupancy compliance (i.e., enabling distancing by limiting the number of people in a given space), and ensuring proper cleaning of common and workspaces. With the use of third-party IoT-based solutions and rapidly deployable and dedicated LTE networks, many of these activities can be streamlined.

Additionally, some companies may turn to additional facilities to create less densely packed workplaces. These new office facilities need to be opened in weeks, not months, to support employees returning to the workplace. IT organizations can utilize Wireless WANs built on one or more LTE connections to provide day-1 connectivity.

Financial Services/Banking

Banks, credit unions, and financial services firms are likely to be swamped these days, supporting beleaguered business customers and helping them with CARES Act business loans and relief, such as those available through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). At the same time, many branches and retail locations remain closed or are operating on a limited basis with a skeleton staff. As such, loan officers and mission-critical employees are processing thousands of applications while working from home, creating a need to extend the corporate network to the home. In this situation, network downtime isn’t acceptable, and security and compliance are essential.

Also, with many branches still closed, banks are relying on more kiosks and ATMs to service their customers more than ever. In the past, these banking devices were a convenience. Today, they are essential and require a nonstop network to keep them always online. Using LTE as a failover connection, or a two-carrier LTE solution for primary connectivity, delivers the uptime required.

Restaurants and Retail

Stores and restaurants are getting back to business without fully opening facilities by relying on pop-up locations to serve customers and offer curbside assistance and pick-up. Restaurants are extending their dining rooms on to sidewalks. For quick-service restaurants with drive-thrus and extended hours, network uptime has become an imperative in order to gain market share from sit-down format restaurants and generate more revenue per square foot due to limited inside dining options. In many of these situations, LTE-based wireless routers can provide a quick, secure, and reliable solution to these address these new challenges. If the current Wi-Fi network cannot be stretched to reach remote and outside locations, especially in mall environments, LTE can quickly and easily extend the enterprise WAN to connect them.

From a real estate perspective, retailers are going through a major recovery transition as they close some stores, change formats, and relocate others to more desirable locations or leases. These changes, coupled with the need to get open quickly, make a Wireless WAN approach using LTE an optimum choice for providing day-1 connectivity, agile reconfigurations, and primary WAN connections from anywhere you can receive a cell signal. If you need to elevate an existing wired WAN to nonstop levels of reliability to support 7/24 operations, using LTE as a failover link is a proven solution.

Remote Work: Not All Workers are Created Equal, and Neither Should Your Approach

Topping the list of challenges for many companies is shoring up and improving the work from home (WFH) experience for employees who may continue to carry out their duties outside of the office. Depending on the industry, an organization has up to 30 percent of its workforce equipped for remote work. Almost overnight, they have had to accommodate 80-90 percent or more of employees working remotely in nonservice industries.

Many organizations initially scrambled to deal with this surge by either expending their remote access infrastrutures, like VPN, or by deploying low-cost and limited functionality LTE hotspots. Now that it’s clear the remote work paradigm has permanently shifted, a more  scalable and manageable long-term plan is required. Mission-critical workers such as executives, lawyers, doctors, and emergency services directors are particularly challenging new categories of remote workers that demand a higher level of security, availability, and management to ensure the business is uninterrupted.

In the office, IT owns, secures, and manages all the network infrastructure to ensure the necessary level of uptime, security, and control. Employees can move around freely knowing that they can stay connected to Wi-Fi to access the applications they need without worrying about who else is on the network and whether there’s a performance issue or security threat. From an IT perspective, since the entire network infrastructure is owned and controlled, they can be assured of delivering the necessary quality of experience.

The goal of providing remote access to mission-critical workers is precisely the same, but the environment is not. Using the employee’s home internet as a substitute for the office network makes it impossible for IT to replicate the office network experience, since they cannot know, control, and manage that environment. Trying to put security on top of an uncontrolled network is a half solution because other devices on the home network can interact with the corporate-owned PC and introduce new threats. Additionally, other home users can generate vast amounts of network and internet traffic that impedes the business traffic of the mission-critical worker.

The most effective way to replicate the office network at home is to deploy a “wireless private network” or WPN: a completely separate and corporate-controlled network at home using LTE-based Wireless WAN at speeds up to several hundred Mbps. By implementing a physically separate at-home network, which is effectively a private office of one, IT can control all aspects of the network — from connectivity to reliability, security, management and troubleshooting.

Using enterprise-class wireless edge routers, like Cradlepoint, IT can deploy a private at-home network using LTE as the WAN, a private at-home Wi-Fi network that’s integrated uses the same SSID and authentication as the office network, and all of the necessary security controls for corporate and direct internet access. Additionally, Cradlepoint’s work from home solutions ship directly to end users with a choice of SIM already installed, enabling end-user installations in minutes without local IT support. Once installed, NetCloud Manager provides the IT team with centralized visibility and control of the entire WPN environment — from connectivity to security, QoS, and performance, and even troubleshooting of attached devices, like a printer or PC.

As the industry leader of wireless edge solutions that unlock the potential of today’s LTE and 5G cellular networks, Cradlepoint provides a comprehensive portfolio of solutions to help companies adapt their enterprise WAN to enable the new normal. These include extending Wi-Fi connectivity anywhere, delivering nonstop reliability to an WAN infrastructure, and enabling mission-critical remote work with an at-home solution that provides the centralized security, availability, manageability and control of the main office.

Learn more today about how wireless networking solutions are helping organizations adjust to the new normal.

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