Pandemic: is fixed wireless access the answer to connectivity?


By James Bristow, SVP EMEA, Cradlepoint

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to step back and recognise the huge effort being made to limit its potential for disruption. From British Gas using its logistics network to deliver supplies to food banks, to teachers using empty D&T classrooms to make face shields for NHS workers, it’s clear that while the pandemic is undoubtedly causing devastation, it has unleashed a wave of compassion, collaboration and innovation. Combined with our ability to communicate with one another in today’s technology-driven world, these factors make us all the more resilient.

Many aspects of daily life have been able to continue while respecting all-important social distancing, thanks in part to the ability to stay connected with family and friends, remain up to date with the latest news and government advice, or work remotely from home. But whilst things are changing constantly, getting everyone and everything connected can still be a challenge. Here we look at some of the examples of where the flexibility of fixed wireless access (FWA) can help to overcome the barriers caused by COVID-19.

Pop-up connectivity

New field hospitals and pop-up testing stations are being developed right across the world to fight and control the spread of the disease. Speed and flexibility are key to their success; the faster they can be set up, the more patients that healthcare workers can diagnose and treat. This need for mobility and rapid deployment means wireline connectivity is a no-go, making enterprise-grade wireless WAN a preferred choice for many of these facilities.

Using 4G LTE cellular networks, FWA has helped remove barriers to getting pop-up facilities connected to high performance networks in the field without the need for installation by IT professionals. In addition, in-built security measures such as VPN, edge threat detection and content help bolster the security and therefore availability of the network. As a result, healthcare staff can reliably gain access to patient records, transmit valuable data and receive updates in real time from centralised control hubs, wherever and whenever needed.  

From work to home office

Social distancing has made remote working an imperative of business continuity for many organisations across the world today. Innovations such as fibre broadband, cloud-based applications, and a host of agile collaboration tools have similarly shifted from being useful nice-to-haves to business-critical activities.

However, the consumer networks to which home offices are connected lack the security, reliability and manageability characteristics needed to meet the standards of enterprise-class connectivity. This can not only result in a loss of worker productivity due to reduced network capacity, but also risks comprising data security regulations and opening vulnerabilities in the corporate network due to access via an unmanaged, unsecured connection.

In order to emulate the standards of network connectivity found in enterprise working environments, remote workers can rely on plug-in-and-play FWA solutions with all the characteristics of an office-based network already built-in. Not only does this provide remote workers with a high-performance connection separate from their home network, but also enables organisations to centrally monitor, troubleshoot and secure remote access to the corporate network through cloud-based management platforms.

For the vast number of households – with multiple people working from home or children using high demand streaming or gaming services – a separate FWA corporate WAN solution running on a 4G LTE network can provide office-like connectivity separate to the home network.  

Connectivity for those that need it

High speed home broadband underpins many of the everyday experiences that have now moved online. One of the most crucial is education, as reflected by the UK government’s recent promise to supply disadvantaged children in England with free laptops, tablets and 4G wireless routers. This last provision is especially important in light of the UK’s digital divide, with internet usage 30% lower amongst lower-income households than those with an income of £20,000 or more, according to the Oxford Internet Institute.

A similar social initiative is currently being rolled out in the US on the grassroots level. We have been involved in converting yellow school buses into mobile high speed public Wi-Fi hotspots to provide free Wi-Fi to the neighbourhoods of US school districts.

Fitted with gigabit-class LTE modems, these access points offer sufficient bandwidth for students to gain full access to the learning resources and online content they need. In addition, in-built CJIS-compliant security capabilities, such as threat protection and content filtering, help minimise the risk of students accidentally downloading malware or accessing dangerous web content. By bringing enterprise-class connectivity to every student, these mobile hotspots are helping to keep students engaged and learning, something which is ever more critical during this period.

Watershed moment

In these uncertain times, it’s important to look at silver linings. We can see the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic would have disrupted daily life had it broken over a decade earlier. Innovations such as smartphones, 3G, 4G LTE, fibre broadband and the cloud have proven to be crucial to continuing daily life during the current crisis, while only having emerged within the last 15 years.

It’s clear that innovation both is and will continue to be key to facing the challenges of the future, especially when it comes to the technologies that help us to communicate, collaborate and cooperate. The need for easy to deploy networks has ushered in wireless as the defining network medium of our time.

Moreover, flexibility, agility and efficiency will continue to be the ingredients of success long after the current crisis ends. It’s therefore more important now than ever to cut the cord, consider FWA as the primary source of connectivity, and realise the potential of enterprise-class wireless as the default network paradigm moving forward.


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