Industry Voices — Greenblatt: Shelter-in-place workforce creates opportunities for fixed wireless access

Industry Voices - Greenblatt

The sudden quarantine of Americans by the millions has given birth to a shelter-in-place workforce that is fundamentally changing the relationship consumers have with their network service providers (NSPs). Expectations for high-quality broadband access have been exponentially elevated, as family homes become branch offices—often for multiple enterprises—as well as schools and online clinics to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. To meet these demands, interesting opportunities for fixed wireless access (FWA) applications are emerging.

There is ample anecdotal evidence that broadband resources designed to serve the private needs of the home are being stretched to their limits. Unlike enterprise networks, connected home infrastructures were not designed to simultaneously carry countless hours of full-duplex, multi-party video conferences and transfers of massive multimedia files while supporting real-time collaboration traffic from Slack, Jabber, Quick, Chatter and other messaging applications that keep employees in touch with each other and their projects.

To address this capacity challenge, FWA is increasingly seen as an ideal way to supplement current network infrastructure by using load balancers, switches and routers to intelligently manage hybrid wired and wireless access networks. It is an idea that would have been dismissed out of hand as “overkill” and “overcomplicated” just a few weeks ago. But things are different now with home networking going from important to mission critical.

Moreover, the complexity associated with managing these hybrid networks is being assisted by a new generation of consumer electronics -- including smart TVs. These devices are now equipped with Wi-Fi and 5G chipsets that can be programmed to dynamically determine the best way to send and receive high-fidelity signals. As the market and technology matures, FWA is in an advantageous position to provide connected homes and neighborhoods with the added capacity to carry the kind of data traffic patterns that have suddenly emerged.

Bring your own network

While it is still too soon to fully understand the implications of how the current crisis will ultimately change the workplace, it seems reasonable to conclude that many workers will not return to traditional office environments any time soon. In the long-run, this could be good for both employees (most of whom have enjoyed the flexibility of working remotely) and employers (who on average spend well over $10,000 per employee every year on office space). This is raising important questions about remote access performance, management and security. More importantly, it is prompting an interesting dialog about how to -- and who should -- fund this critical resource.

It is a dynamic we have seen before, when many organizations across the public and private sectors warmed up to the idea of having employees bring their own devices to work (BYOD) about a decade ago. A sustained massive move to work over connected-home networks is very likely to revisit many of the key issues we saw in the early days of BYOD. Among them:

  • Economics - Who pays the bill, employees or employers?
  • Control - What policies and measures should be in place to manage personal and corporate data?
  • Security - How is data integrity protected? and
  • Accountability - Who is responsible for any negative developments or outcomes?

While these points of discussion may conjure a sense of Deja Vu, there is one major difference between the BYOD debate then...and the BYON discussion now: NSPs are critical third parties that will have a major role in meeting the demands and desires of consumers and employers alike.

Business continuity and traffic segmentation

There are any number of roles that FWA services may play as events unfold over the coming months and years. Here are a couple.

If major portions of the workforce do in fact remain in the home, the issue of business continuity is likely to loom large. Pandemics are not the only forces that can disrupt operations. Earthquakes, hurricanes, snowstorms and other natural disasters regularly make headlines as they create havoc for local communities. Even more common are simple local incidents of human error -- such as overzealous tree-trimmers or back-hoe operators who dig out fiber lines that disconnect entire neighborhoods. Given this context, employers may find that funding FWA services for employees can be a remarkably cost-effective insurance policy that will make a distributed workforce more resilient through volatile periods.

RELATED: FWA: Boom or bust for U.S. wireless carriers?

FWA may provide an elegant way to segment personal and corporate data traffic. It could provide dedicated network capacity for business activity (it could look, conceptually, a lot like containerization). This factor alone could spark demand for current NSPs—and perhaps a new breed of operator—to rapidly develop and field FWA hotspot services in residential neighborhoods that could then be expensed (in whole or in part) to employers.

Our shared new reality has created no shortage of scenarios that lend themselves to viable FWA applications. We are just at the very beginning of what promises to be a new fascinating dialog about the role the connected home will play in our connected work.

Ian Greenblatt leads J.D. Power’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications Intelligence, including a new IoT sub-practice, and drives market strategy across the rapidly converging landscape, which encompasses the entire communication sector. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GreenblattTMT.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.