The COVID-19 Pandemic & the Perspective on Wireless Networking

Today marks 12 months since the simple instruction to “stay home, save lives, and protect the NHS” caused a huge shift in the way we live; the COVID-19 pandemic sent millions of employees home to work, learn and socialise within their own 4 walls, and staying connected to the outside world beyond our household became entirely reliant on the internet.

Wireless connectivity has been so vital during this time that digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation has recommended that the internet be classified as an essential utility, alongside electricity, water and heating. We would argue that enterprise connectivity has always been crucial, but that COVID-19 has shone a light on just how vital a part of modern day living, learning and working it is.

So what changes in perspectives and priorities have taken place in the world of WiFi in the last 12 months as a direct result of the pandemic?

Increase in Global Bandwidth & Speed

At the start of the pandemic, global internet traffic was predicted to rise by 28% but in reality it was almost double at 47% according to Telegeography. In March 2020, the UK’s major internet service and mobile providers agreed to temporarily remove data allowance caps on fixed line broadband services and added free extras to customers’ plans following discussions with the government.

Global internet bandwidth rose by 35% to meet the increase in demand, a substantial increase over the previous year’s modest 26%, showing the acute awareness that keeping the world connected digitally was vital for minimising disruption.

When reviewing the last year, speeds in the UK have increased. According to the internet speed testing giant Ookla, upload and download speeds in the UK have actually increased (and stayed elevated) since March 2020.

WiFi Means Safety

For those without adequate connectivity and security, COVID put them at higher risk of misinformation, fraud and cyber scams. The ability to book health appointments online, including vaccination jabs, put those with WiFi and connected devices such as smartphones, laptops and PCs at a significant advantage, particularly the elderly. This has caused a wave of learning within this societal bracket; 95% of adults in the UK have used the internet in the last 3 months according to ONS, meaning a significant number have been forced to become connected for the first time.

Connectivity = Continuity

Incorporating agility, capacity and BYOD into network models has been a growing focus for many years, but many organisations had not progressively adopted these factors into their IT infrastructure. The need to suddenly support remote working, video meetings, a huge rise in the number of devices connected to the network, and ensure business-wide security was a huge obstacle that caused business disruption and backlogs in work. COVID forced those lagging behind the curve to adapt in a hurry, and a year on most are in a position to offer employees a level of ongoing flexibility that did not exist in 2019.

Closing the Digital Divide

Since March 2020, wireless connectivity has been the backbone for delivering education throughout multiple lockdowns and widespread social and professional isolation. The importance of learning continuity for children, teens, and young adults meant that a close eye was kept on student experience and results, which shone a light on the ‘digital divide’.

60% of private schools and 37% of state schools in the most affluent areas already had an online platform in place to receive students’ work, meaning they were largely prepared for the shift to remote learning and teaching. This was compared with just 23% amongst the most deprived schools, showing that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds saw the biggest negative impact to their learning due to a lack of access to adequate devices such as laptops, tablets, and adequate Wi-Fi, in addition to teachers being less accustomed to digital learning and the use of EdTech. Hundreds of thousands of devices have been distributed to these students over the last 12 months, with significant grants and bursaries being given to schools to fund these improvements, but the divide remains to be closed.

Stretching the Security Blanket

With the sudden adoption of digitally working, learning and living came an explosion in terms of the number of devices connected to business networks. Security and privacy concerns sky-rocketed as every source, smartphone, portal and PC became a hacking target, and protecting businesses from cyber-attacks became a more prominent part of new network projects.

Although the initial peak in protecting business data has largely been and gone over the last 12 months, keeping your security up to date against the latest risks will remain an elevated priority in line with the elevated risks of larger and more agile networks.

Pandemic Proof Network Management

Over the last year, IT teams across the country have been under extreme pressure to deliver higher performance to more devices with less visibility. For businesses less ready for agile working, getting the workforce online and able to do their jobs remotely was a huge initial struggle. As with security, the shift has largely been made a year on, but if the size and scope of networks is set to remain ‘as is’ post COVID, managing and monitoring networks will be both more time consuming and more complex.

Uniformity across devices is less easy to ensure, and its harder to fix problems and respond to troubleshooting questions if your network isn’t cloud-based and cloud-managed. Network management will need to allow total visibility from anytime, anywhere, and will progressively need to be able to adopt AI, machine learning and other emerging technologies.

All this explains why investing in wireless connectivity is booming, and rightly so. Businesses want networks that can support the future – whatever it has to throw at us. “Business Wi-Fi isn’t a luxury or a nice-to-have anymore. The devices connecting to our networks, ranging from personal phones and laptops to connected machinery and handheld scanners, are Wi-Fi-first and many times Wi-Fi-only”. says Ekahau, the leaders in WiFi survey and design software.

For further reading, our partner Ekahau just published their latest white paper, titled “The Global State of WiFi”, which takes a long, hard, holistic view of the shape of things to come in the world of wireless.

As connected partners of Cambium Networks, we believe in wireless solutions that can deliver peak performance in the toughest environments, whether indoors, outdoors, in a warehouse, school, office – or at 18,000 feet.

Recent years have shown huge developments in where and how wireless technology can be provided, extending to the farthest and most challenging places on the planet. Few places can be as challenging for first-class connectivity than Mount Everest, characterized by craggy cliffs, ice, swift rivers and extreme weather conditions across the entire northeastern region of Nepal.
With experience in extreme conditions, it was no surprise that Everest Link approached our partner Cambium Networks to provide a wireless solution.

Despite the challenges posed to technology across these thousands of square miles of hostile terrain, reliable, secure and fast connectivity is paramount both for locals and tourists. The area sees around 40,000 visitors annually, including over 1,600 climbers across the various mountains, of which Everest is one. Tsering G. Sherpa, CEO of Everest Link said of the project, “our goal was to give them a perfect connection across the toughest terrain in the world.”

One major obstacle was power sources; at Base Camp the only viable option was renewable energy which meant carrying solar panels and devices to the installation sites by porters or pack animals. Cambium’s lightweight, energy efficient solutions made them a good match. Another issue was weather conditions; Cambium focus heavily on leading outdoor wireless technology that can withstand dust, high wind, and is waterproof, providing another solution to a highly unique challenge.

After deploying over 200 hotspots in addition to PTP 650 access points, the region has a solid connection 24 hours a day. Tsering G. Sherpa commented, “it gives us high throughput and perfect reliability. At the moment, we’re connected to the Everest base camp. There, at 5,320 meters altitude, we have a solar powered cnPilot™ e500 outdoor Wi-Fi hotspot.”

The project didn’t just set its sights on supporting tourism. In addition, Cambium Networks connected over 40 villages and 34,000 locals, with connectivity significantly boosting regional education through distance-learning.

Watch the video below to see Cambium Networks in action with Everest Link at Everest Base Camp.

We are pleased to announce we have been awarded the technology accreditation of ExtremeWireless Cloud Specialized partner status from Extreme Networks. As wireless experts, this latest accreditation further confirms our commitment and capability with world-leading enterprise wireless technology.

A leader in customer-driven networking, Extreme Networks’ specializations reflect its partners breadth of delivery and installation competency within a specific technology or solution area and we have demonstrated the highest levels of proficiency and expertise in wireless specialised technology.

As one of a select few partners, we provide Extreme Networks’ world-leading technology solutions around the U.K. and Europe. We already hold Extreme Networks Gold Partner status and this wireless technology specialisation further showcases Redway Networks as a trusted Extreme partner who can provide differentiated value and support to our customers – who include businesses, organisations and education establishments.

Our extensive experience in designing, installing and configuring enterprise networks across multiple sectors including education, warehousing and logistics, manufacturing and business office environments has helped our customers improve connectivity, efficiency and business resilience with our cloud-managed wireless infrastructure. Now more than ever, networks need to be monitored and managed from anywhere, and our ExtremeWireless Cloud expertise means we can advise you on a future-proofed network solution that fits your business’ precise needs.

Leigh Hayes, Sales Director at Redway Networks says: “ We value our partnership with Extreme and this wireless technology accreditation demonstrates we can provide an even greater customer experience at every stage of an Extreme wireless solution. Meaning our customers can better utilise their Extreme wireless investment which results in a more robust, agile and future-proofed network. Our ethos is to consistently go above and beyond with any wireless installation. We call this the Redway Experience’, which has led to a 100% customer satisfaction”.

Internet access has not only become a way of life, it’s become something we feel strongly entitled to in the western world. It’s become such a commodity at home and at work that we’ve even become justified in our frustration when we experience slow speeds, poor connection or a weak cellular service.

When you really consider it, you probably struggle to imagine how your day would look without it; how you’d communicate with colleagues and clients at work, how you’d keep track of your finances, how you’d get from A to B avoiding motorway closures and a myriad of other challenges that the internet helps us circumvent or shortcut.

The simple fact is that today’s world couldn’t operate without wireless connectivity, and neither can tomorrow’s.

But in this instance, tomorrow is #NationalDayOfUnplugging, celebrating all things switching off, and given we’re all about tech – specifically wireless networks – we thought we’d ask the team how they’d feel about a life offline.

So, just how does Redway Networks feel about a world with all its access points unplugged?

What would you miss?

What would you count on or enjoy more?