The evolution of secure cellular broadband for business is taking Wireless WAN use cases further than ever
From Chile to South Africa to Ireland to Canada and everywhere in between, three small words connect our world: wide-area network (WAN). What began as a simple way to link office terminals to mainframe systems and other devices has evolved into a sophisticated global labyrinth of pings, packets, and protocols, zipping across the backs of cellular networks to deliver revolutionary speeds and performance.
Once considered a tool of early adopters, enterprise businesses are now earnestly cutting cords and jumping on the Wireless WAN (WWAN) bandwagon to take advantage of the benefits these networks bring to remote work, IoT orchestration, and scale.
The reliability, agility, and return on investment of 4G and 5G networks drive the increased adoption rate of WWAN technology, which is predicted to grow by more than 68% between 2022-2025.
As the technical foundations of organizations evolve from wired to wireless connectivity, it’s important for IT leaders to build a clear picture of what this shift means for their employees, devices, budget, and security, starting with the basics: what is Wireless WAN?
What is WWAN?
Utilizing cellular routers and adapters to build a WAN infrastructure, a Wireless WAN connects people, places, and things using public and private cellular broadband network technology. WWANs not only link dispersed local area networks (LANs) to cloud servers, headquarters, and each other, but they are also versatile enough to serve as a primary standalone connection or as a wireless connection within hybrid WAN architecture.
If the concept of a Wireless WAN seems simple, that’s because it is. Establishing and maintaining a WWAN requires only a few components to get started:
- A SIM-enabled wireless router or adapter. Wireless routers and adapters require SIM cards to connect to available cellular networks and broadcast connectivity securely.
- Cellular broadband availability. When network availability is determined, regional or national cellular operators can provision an appropriate data plan, taking into account the operational and budgetary needs of the enterprise.
- Connected devices. At one time, employee phones and laptops dominated the category of “connected devices.” Today, devices connected to a WWAN range from small autonomous vehicles to robots to irrigation systems and more.
- Cloud management. IT teams use cloud-based management platforms to activate, monitor, and troubleshoot routers and connected devices on the WWAN from a single pane of glass.
This formula for WWAN makes it possible to establish reliable connectivity in locations where wired connections aren’t available, in a fraction of the time. That’s why enterprise businesses seek cellular broadband solutions for:
- Retail stores and restaurants
- Branch offices
- Kiosks and temporary or pop-up locations
- Vehicles and fleets
- IoT applications
What's the history of Wired and Wireless WAN?
As WAN solutions evolve to keep pace with ever-changing organizational structures and technologies, it’s important to understand the historical transformation of wide-area networks.
Pre and Early 2000s
Traditional wide-area networks began as centralized, mainframe computing architecture sending traffic from branch offices to data centers and back. WANs were used primarily by individuals whose jobs centered on the constant input and processing of data. These workers quickly identified the need for their primary PCs to talk to printers, fax machines, and other PCs – thus creating the LAN. As the 2000s pressed onward, businesses moved their operations closer to the network edge, using LTE and SD-WAN technologies to allow IoT devices, kiosks, vehicles, and other critical assets to connect securely while giving organizations control over the user experience. Cellular networks soon cropped up as primary and secondary connections for hybrid WANs.
2020 and beyond
The 4G LTE and 5G network solutions that are prevalent across the world provide speeds, bandwidth, and latency records that were a mere pipe dream little more than a decade before. These network performance enhancements have made WWAN infamous for its reliability, security, flexibility, scalability, and simplicity.
What is the difference between Wi-Fi and WWAN? Putting WWAN vs. WLAN under the microscope
Wireless connectivity means different things to different people. Differentiating between the variations of wireless helps organizations apply the right solution in each unique situation.
A LAN is a network typically restricted to a small geographical area such as a school, office, bank, or private household. By default, LANs are not accessible outside their predetermined walls, but devices within the network can communicate and share data with one another. A WAN connects multiple LANs, allowing data to be shared “beyond the walls” to remote locations, headquarters, and other sites.
Both LANs and WANs can be wireless, with Wi-Fi often being used for the former and 5G or LTE for the latter.
Just as WANs have evolved over time to incorporate cellular connectivity, LAN architecture has increasingly evolved into private cellular networks that replace or complement Wi-Fi in large areas. 5G and LTE private networks offer the speed, latency, bandwidth, and performance of public networks at a lower cost. Touting increased security and customizability, these modern LANs fall into the “sweet spot” between Wi-Fi and public cellular.
What is Wireless WAN used for?
Enterprises of all sizes can implement cellular as either a standalone or failover link. When used as a standalone link, 5G or LTE serves as the only type of network connection to the router. This scenario is common in areas where wired connectivity is unavailable or unreliable, or the time and cost to install a wired broadband connection is outside a company’s operational scope. When used as a failover link, the 5G or LTE network is the backup connectivity solution to a wired connection, providing continuous uptime in the event the wired line is not operational.
Multi-WAN solutions incorporate any combination of wired and wireless connectivity, including wireless-only connectivity that utilizes connections from multiple carriers to achieve constant network access.
Wireless WAN use cases
The everyday application of WWAN can be divided into three categories: sites, vehicles, and IoT.
Site or branch applications of WWAN include retail and grocery stores, banks, temporary shops and sites, public safety stations, restaurants, warehouses, offices, and more. These locations are typically hubs for processing data or completing transactions and require constant reliability and seamless failover for business continuity.
WWAN solutions also connect many first responder vehicles, delivery trucks, public transportation, and other fleets. For example, a police car requires connectivity for vehicle surveillance, IoT devices, and Wi-Fi, but cannot physically rely on a wired connection.
WWAN also is a flexible, cost-effective way to connect IoT applications, such as surveillance cameras, digital signage, self-service kiosks, and an infinite number of sensors. From measuring the number of cars going in and out of a parking garage to monitoring the vitals of miners, IoT devices answer the question, ”What can we learn if we connect this?”
IoT data enhances customer experience, boosts patron and employee safety, reduces operational costs, generates new revenue, and collect information for future innovations and improvements.
What's the relationship between 5G capabilities and WWAN success?
5G WWAN serves as a critical piece of the infrastructure businesses need for technological innovation and transformation. Here’s why:
Blazing fast speed
5G promises to deliver more than 10X the average speed of 4G LTE networks. In 2022 Opensignal recognized a handful of particularly fast operators, each reporting 5G download speeds more than 1000% faster than 4G.
A wider lane, a fatter pipe, a bigger stream — no matter what you call it, 5G network capacity is capable of handling data more efficiently and in exponentially larger amounts, making room for more devices to be connected to the network without hindering the user experience.
Compared to the 30-50 ms latency average on the 4G network, latencies on the 5G network are expected to reach below 10 ms and continue to inch closer to zero. This 5G network characteristic is critical to machines, such as high-precision robots or video-controlled monitoring that require immediate input response.
Although 5G network performance can vary based on the types of 5G, each of these enhancements are designed to support mission-critical services, massive IoT, and enhanced mobile broadband applications.
One of the most appealing characteristics of a 5G WWAN is the level of security at the network core compared to earlier generations of cellular. 5G security upgrades determined by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) include new authentication framework, enhanced subscriber privacy, improved core network agility and security using service-based architecture (SBA), expanded roaming security, and advanced protection of user traffic that mitigates man-in-the-middle attacks. These contemporary security technologies pave the way for network slicing, zero trust network access (ZTNA), and secure access service edge (SASE) security.
What are the benefits of WWAN for business?
WWAN combines the flexibility and agility of a wireless network with the performance of fiber. Implementing a WWAN can resolve IT headaches while laying the foundation for enterprise transformation. Here are a few more reasons to consider implementing Wireless WAN solutions as part of your network edge strategy.
As a result of construction incidents, weather, and even wildlife, wired networks face a higher risk of damage compared to their wireless counterparts. The reliability of WWAN means guaranteed uptime for primary and failover connectivity — a benefit that is further enhanced by SD-WAN capabilities that allow users to precisely control network performance.
As companies increase their 5G networking — particularly with the scale of IoT — attack surfaces grow. By moving from legacy wired WANs to a WWAN solution, enterprise networks can take advantage of adaptive security features to keep threat actors at bay. Layered WWAN security includes:
- Zone-based and next-gen firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), and simple VPN setup and content filtering built into the wireless router.
- Encrypted edge application delivery with pre-built configurations.
- 5G security enhancements centered on zero-trust principles.
Flexibility for evolving business needs
When it comes to portability, wireless routers are the name of the game. WWANs provide connectivity in vehicles, kiosks, public transportation fleets, airplanes, temporary sites such as mobile health clinics or emergency response centers, food trucks, and more. No matter where you do business, 5G or LTE wireless edge solutions are easy to deploy and relocate.
5G and LTE networks are designed with scale in mind. With the ability to accommodate millions of endpoints, wireless networks are the ideal playground for businesses with a growth mindset.
Simplicity from day one
A study published by Ericsson found that industries using WWAN solutions wait an average of 35 days for wired links to come online compared to an average of only 26 minutes to set up a 5G or LTE connection. With a centralized, cloud-based management system in place, IT teams can deploy, monitor, and troubleshoot new and existing WWAN routers within minutes and from anywhere.
What does WWAN mean for your industry?
While 5G and LTE use cases may vary from one industry to the next, one thing remains undeniable: WWAN is essential infrastructure for modern enterprise businesses that need to scale and innovate without sacrificing security and performance. As each industry continues to mature, so does its WWAN needs.
- Retail locations including brick-and-mortar stores, pop-up shops, vending machines, and more rely on WWANs for 24/7 year-round connectivity.
- Restaurants can host their entire business including point-of-sale, signage, IoT sensors, and guest Wi-Fi from a WWAN router without the burden of locating or installing a wired line.
- Healthcare organizations capitalize on WWAN to better serve patients, both at fixed and pop-up locations.
- Financial services handle highly sensitive data bound by strict security and compliance rules that are easily maintained with a cloud-managed WWAN.
- Public safety agencies including police, fire, and EMS use LTE and 5G WWAN solutions to not only provide connectivity for dozens of on-board IoT devices, but also to ensure that connectivity isn’t interrupted when they’re on the move during emergencies.
- Education administrations see the benefit of WWAN to reach students on and off campus, even in remote locations.
- Public transit fleets such as buses, trollies, ferries, and light rail rely on WWAN technology to improve rider experience and operational efficiency on the road and at stops and stations.
- Federal government agencies look to WWAN solutions for highly secure connectivity both in offices and in the field.
How do I enable WWAN?
Enabling WWAN requires an edge router and a cellular data plan. However, implementing WWAN with the security, performance, and optimization that most enterprises need requires a solution that supports a variety of services that can be configured and managed from anywhere.