Building the hybrid network

Nuvias and partner NetAlly spoke to Melissa Bradshaw about Wi-Fi 6, the hybrid workplace and how channel partners can build the strongest network solutions for their customers.

In October 2019, Nuvias welcomed NetAlly to its portfolio and has built a range of end-to-end solutions integrated with NetAlly’s network testing tools for its EMEA partners. Since then, as the events of the pandemic unravelled the workplace environment, it’s become clear that building a strong and comprehensive network solution has never been more important.

Sen Chandaka, emerging technology lead at Nuvias, said that there are many different facets involved in the orchestration and construction of any major Wi-Fi solution. “It’s not just Wi-Fi, it’s Wi-Fi plus the infrastructure needed to support Wi-Fi, plus cybersecurity, plus automation policies,” he told Comms Business.

Channel businesses can go to a customer and utilise Wi-Fi as a platform to deliver business outcomes, Chandaka added, before the final piece of the puzzle comes in: a partner like NetAlly, who is able to turn the business outcomes and promises into a reality. “It’s always critical for us to have someone like NetAlly who can help our customers and partners to understand how design is done,” he said.

Julio Petrovich, product manager at NetAlly explained that the company covers the entire network life cycle, providing solutions to help not only with the design of the network but everything that follows. “The validation of that network, site surveys, the ongoing troubleshooting…” he said. “There’s ongoing maintenance, and as part of that lifecycle, technology changes — we are on Wi-Fi 6 right now, in a couple years we’ll be on Wi-Fi 7.”

Maximising efficiency with Wi-Fi 6

The biggest benefit of Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, in the shift toward our new way of working is OFDMA (orthogonal frequency division multiple access), Petrovich said, which has allowed for significant improvements in efficiency — a vital component needed for the Wi-Fi solutions of today, perhaps more so than the focus on speed seen previously.

“Besides that, you have improved multi-user MIMO (multi-input, multi-output) — even though multi-user MIMO was introduced on 802.11ac, it didn’t apply to uploading data. Now with Wi-Fi 6, it also applies to uploads so you can have multiple devices uploading and downloading at the same time.”

Adoption has been driven and fuelled by these technologies during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Chandaka pointed out. “What we’ll start to see is there will be a plateauing of this Covid-fuelled growth, so we expect [it] to slow down to five per cent going into 2025 and beyond.

“That’s because the cycle of adoption is that we build out these technologies, we build out a platform, and then it’s up to the Channel to actually build services on top of this Wi-Fi 6 platform especially as people slowly return to the office in whatever form that might look like.”

So how can channel partners build a strong and robust Wi-Fi solution? The key focal points, Petrovich says, are coverage and user capacity, both of which depend on the type of environment.

Optimising building architecture

“People don’t realise that buildings themselves are the most complex systems,” added Chandaka. “If you think about it, from a Channel perspective, you have integrators, partners, you have architects, people who install the HFX systems, employees, employees’ devices… so many different sub-systems that actually, a building becomes a living, breathing entity.

“From a channel perspective, there’s a huge opportunity not just with Wi-Fi but to integrate the fundamentals of RF and Wi-Fi into the planning stages much earlier than our traditional Channel has engaged in the past.”

Where the pandemic has given many businesses the opportunity to redo the infrastructure of their buildings, Chandaka said, this presents an opportunity for channel partners to talk to customers and their architects about tweaking the design so that fundamentally, in the future, wireless is not affected by the building’s design principles.

The challenges lie in giving a great experience to people working from home in addition to rebuilding the infrastructure inside buildings from a Wi-Fi perspective, he added.

“As a channel partner, as a distributor, you have to provide a holistic solution that is able to allow those people to interface with a very similar quality of experience … From a Wi-Fi perspective, homes and apartments were not designed in the same way that buildings were designed and typically, nobody uses a NetAlly to do a survey at home but maybe in future people will have to start to do that, because it becomes business critical to be connected wherever you are.”

Cybersecurity considerations

The cybersecurity challenge shouldn’t be underestimated either, he stressed, explaining that in light of recent attacks on the supply chain, there will be an EU cybersecurity directive to be able to, in time, rank and rate multiple channel suppliers — MSPs as well as B2B — and Wi-Fi will be a part of that analysis.

This is another benefit of Wi-Fi 6, Petrovich pointed out, as WPA3 has been introduced which enhances the security and encryption of the Wi-Fi network. “Not only is it about securing the RF itself and going back to designing the network, making sure that the bleed through of the signal doesn’t go outside of the building ... trying to keep the signal inside your boundaries is also about encryption and making sure that no one can easily break through the security and through the Wi-Fi network.”

“It’s really about compliance, and business resiliency,” Chandaka concluded. “That’s a challenge that our channel partners will have to market and swing toward.”