Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

The all-wireless office

December 4, 2015

We now live in a wireless world. Like it or not, we can get connected to Wi-Fi almost everywhere we go; in the office, at home, on the tube, in the air and now even at my in-law’s house in rural Herefordshire!

A lot of the networks we connect to are very good too – now that we have 11ac, it’s perfectly possible to stream 4k Netflix to your TV over Wi-Fi (although admittedly probably not over rural broadband).

The fact that most of us (or at least those that live within a mile of the Exchange) have a decent experience at home and very rarely ‘plug in’ anymore has changed the way we think about Wi-Fi. A lot of people are thinking about ditching the cables in enterprises now too.

When one of our customers, RSA (formerly Royal and Sun Alliance) moved to the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building in London, they set out with the goal of delivering a experience to their users that was even better than they get at home. The tricky bit was doing that at the same time as cutting millions of pounds of cost out of the business.

The savings came not just from the obvious places (i.e. a reduced cabling bill), but by untethering the users from their desks it meant that they could introduce a more flexible hot-desk environment. This translated to significantly better utilisation of office space and a reduction in real estate costs. Not to mention the softer benefits of creating a more collaborative work place.

So did they really go all wireless? Is that even possible?

RSA, like many of our customers followed the rule that if the device moves, Wi-Fi should be the primary network – if it doesn’t move, then plug it in.

That gave them a design that delivers an all-wireless user experience supported by some ethernet in the background for non-mobile devices (like printers, TelePresence etc). As RSA prove, with a combination of careful planning and the right technology, it’s absolutely possible to deliver a completely wireless user experience, even if you need to support voice and video.

802.11ac gives us the performance we need, Stateful Switchover gives us the high-availability we need and Application Visibility & Control gives us the ability to manage real-time applications appropriately.

There are several reasons that we still need our trusty Cat5 though. First and foremost, Wi-Fi is a radio technology and radio waves are a finite resource. In most environments it makes sense to reserve the radio waves for those devices that really need them (i.e. mobile devices) to maximize our overall capacity.

The second reason that we can’t completely ditch the wires is that you’ll need to plug your Access Point into something! You’ll need a switch within a 100m cable run of your AP’s as a minimum, so no converting that wiring closet into a secret man-cave just yet!

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