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Innovations at NRF 2020 highlight need for increased network reliability and bandwidth in retail

Dee Dee Pare

Businesses seek ways to use Wireless WAN for less downtime, more efficiency

NOTE: This is Part 2 of our NRF 2020 Blog Series.

At NRF we witnessed how retailers are connecting more people, places, and things while they deliver new customer experiences enabled by technology advances within and beyond their brick-and-mortar stores. Potential challenges for retailers who are using these customer-enabling technologies include how to keep these technologies connected, and how to manage potential issues such as network performance, automation, and uniformity of access.

Let’s take performance as the starting point. The adoption of Gigabit-Class LTE and 5G — with bandwidth improvements of 5X and the expansion of agility and deployment options — is increasingly attractive to retailers. Many are looking to wireless WAN for primary, overflow, or failover connections to ensure bandwidth limitations aren’t preventing productivity improvements.

However, as more activity and applications are deployed across retail outlets to improve customer experience, the need for more agile, reliable, and high-performance WAN access links at every location is required. Managing and achieving customer experience uniformity in towns large and small requires uniformity of WAN access that only cellular can provide, driving adoption of advanced and Gigabit-Class LTE and 5G as the primary WAN access link. With thousands of things connected to the networks, and many data plans, you need to be able to manage at scale.

As omni-channel retailing advances, more intelligence is needed, and real-time data is necessary from the branch to ensure customers’ expectations are met appropriately. Retail network operators need tools to ensure uptime, visibility into the health of connections, and alerts in the event of impending issues.

With the addition of machine learning intelligence, orchestration, and automation, networks are quickly evolving to require less human involvement to deploy, operate, and optimize. 5G will extend this paradigm across the cellular network with capabilities like network slicing. As these technologies progress, the machines that make up the network will be able to learn and take over more mundane tasks. This will improve uptime, reduce human capital costs, and drive better end-user experiences.

Many retailers we spoke with are using SD-WAN, but in some cases the overhead from SD-WAN outweighed the benefits in smaller retail locations, especially when wireless WAN is used. SD-WAN needs to evolve in this new wireless WAN paradigm to have the intelligence to recognize cellular links and to treat them differently so as not to burden the data plans, while still simplifying management activities.

Combined with tools such as Cradlepoint NetCloud’s predictive analytics, an adapted SD-WAN will help customers embrace the benefits of 5G with insights better suited for a wireless WAN retail environment.

NRF 2020 Vision enabled its visitors to understand a lot more about retail’s exciting and dynamic future. Whichever of the big industry trends dominate over the next 12 months, Cradlepoint will be front and center in the race to move retailers where they want to go.

Learn More About the Pathway to 5G for Retailers

Read Cradlepoint’s 5G guidebook to learn more about the Pathway to 5G for retail businesses large and small.