Today every business is a technology business. To succeed, let alone to compete, in a globally digitized world requires making use of the most important technological innovation of the last century: the internet.
Yet every employee who has sat at their desk waiting for the office's internet connection to return knows that this critical foundation of modern business comes with its own slew of problems.
The average employee loses an entire week per year waiting for their internet network to respond, according to a 2013 Sandisk survey. The U.K. alone was out approximately $16.3 billion a year in productivity, and an average hour of slowdowns can cost $4,100 in revenue loss, according to CGMA this April.
But even a functioning internet has room for improvement. Experts say U.S. economic growth would be 0.3% higher if the country's internet was twice as fast as it is today. The country could also be reaping an extra $350 billion annually had it doubled its broadband speed in 2009, according to a 2017 BBC report on the economic downsides of slow internet.
Keeping up with the connectivity, mobility and service demands of workers and users needs to be a priority for any company using a digital platform. Today, many organizations are adapting their networks as higher traffic flows strain internet infrastructure. More employees are online and connecting multiple devices, taxing the bandwidth in place and extending the boundaries of corporate networks.
The internet cup runneth over with IoT devices
Forcing internet signal to work around the steel concrete walls of a historic building repurposed for new offices is probably not helping connectivity strength, but it is also not the biggest worry for network connectivity.
Instead, the biggest driver for complexity today is the Internet of Things and sheer volume of devices companies are now putting on the internet, said Rob Long, director at ISG, a global technology research and advisory firm, in an interview with CIO Dive.
Experts believe the number of IoT devices in play will total 21 billion by 2020, linking everything from a refrigerator thermostat to a city energy grid together in an IoT market that already amounts to $800 billion. While networks have handled the current additions of such devices, Long noted that businesses have yet to hit the true IoT "speedbump" — a deluge of billions of additional connected devices.
The "consumerization of IT," as Long describes it, plays a key role in this rise. Everything a worker can do at home on a device, they now expect to be able to do at work. Many offices have employee BYOD policies, but the laptops, tablets, smartphones and other internet devices quickly add up and take their toll on a company's bandwidth.
The growing footprint of technology goes hand-in-hand with efforts to move services and experiences closer to end users by cutting out corporate data centers from the middle, said Long.
Additional workplace-specific demands are also making companies change how they do business. Wireless connectivity is oftentimes a mainstream expectation for providers, manufacturers and users.
Arista Networks recently rolled out a new product schedule without switches for plugging into PCs, said Daniel Lakier, VP of ADC technology at Radware, in an interview with CIO Dive. "They decided that that was dead, and that we would all be wireless."
Wireless connectivity and the IoT have both facilitated the turn to mobility for businesses, employees and users. "I want to have any device that I have, I want to be able to connect anywhere and I just want to have a good experience," said Long.
But mobility and easy device access creates many security concerns for companies, such as lost devices and hacking opportunities. Finding, developing and implementing necessary security measures to combat these risks incurs significant financial, time and resource commitments.
The expansion of company networks through IoT and mobile, wireless devices has opened up new areas of corporate vulnerability. "In the past, we knew where the edge of our corporate network was. Now the edge of our network is wherever our people are," said Lakier.
Much ado about bandwidth
Bandwidth is already a pressure point for many companies and organizations. Long said its growth is universal across industries, and so is the problem of not knowing who the biggest consumers of the limited resource are. With the lack of visibility on which applications are driving traffic, a clear solution for companies is often hard to find.
"From a business standpoint, traditional connectivity mediums in the large enterprise space are just starting to think about changing. Medium businesses [are] already pretty far along, but for large enterprises it's a much bigger problem to tackle," said Long.
One of the ways to handle the load is spreading it out. Lakier explained that businesses use two unlicensed ranges in their wireless systems: 5.7GHz and 2.4GHz. Most IoT devices run on the latter, which offers more coverage but slower data speeds. 5.7GHz offers the inverse and better range; it is also newer and thus less widely used.
Lakier said that for the last few years he has recommended companies move all corporate wireless to 5.7GHz and leave 2.4GHz for IoT devices, since they can only run on the lower frequency. This process frees up bandwidth for the IoT and has solved load problems in many cases.
Alleviating bandwidth load poses a challenge for companies with older infrastructure. Lakier said equipment purchased in the last three years is fine for moving corporate wireless to 5.7GHz, but businesses with older equipment may find themselves facing high upgrade costs.
Because companies rely on the flexibility, pipeline productivity and visibility connectivity offers workers and users, these costs may be inevitable in the coming years. "It's not about sitting at your desk anymore — it's about being in the cafeteria or being in a lounge and also being able to bring in a different device type," said Long.
Connectivity today is about far more than the strength of an internet connection or bandwidth. "People need it wherever they are. They need to connect to something, whether it's a person or an application, and there's zero tolerance for a lack of connectivity," said Long.