Zero Wires in a Connected World. Is this the Future?
Written by Beverley Eggleton, Marketing Manager, Cordless Consultants and published in Inside Networks May 2016
When we talk about the future of the workplace, we use phrases such as ‘agile’, ‘digital’, ’smart’, ‘intelligent’, ‘connected’ and ‘optimised’ – but what about wireless?
With the very concept of the workplace as a fixed location becoming more diluted, the way we conduct business today has to be flexible. We want to work any time, any place, anywhere. The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing and making networking ubiquitous – part and parcel of all we do. We are using more media-rich services and the number of connected devices is soaring. In this new world, we need to think, act and work fast, to instantaneously adapt to changing trends and take advantage of available data and competitive market opportunity.
Consequently, the demand for connectivity whether in or out of the office is just vast – and rising.
According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, in 2015, global mobile data traffic increased by 74% whilst 4G traffic exceeded 3G traffic for the first time. More than half a billion (563 million) mobile devices and connections were added, the number of mobile-connected tablets increased 1.3-fold to 133 million and there were 125 million PCs on the mobile network.
By 2020, the same whitepaper predicts that monthly global mobile data traffic will be 30.6 exabytes. The total number of smartphones will be nearly 50 percent of global devices and connections.
The increase in traffic running over mobile and Wi-Fi networks is clear to see.
As for our office environment, with the cost of floor space creeping ever higher, we want to get more get more out of every inch of our precious investment. This means improving the user experience, with technology that is seamlessly embedded into our buildings. It means buildings that can accommodate connectivity for an increasing density of devices. It means technology that is more intuitive and less intrusive, enabling a future proof and flexible environment.
As a result, the role of wireless is moving centre stage so now more than every is the time to consider how effective is our current wireless experience
Steve Taylor, Projects Director at Cordless Consultants puts it into context with a ‘Day in the Life’ scenario of the modern day ‘wire-free’ worker...
“I wake up in the morning and pickup my smartphone that is using the embedded Qi technology to wirelessly charge from the base of my bedside lamp. After a check through my emails over breakfast, I set off for work knowing I need to meet with the team at the office for a quick run-through of the meeting later that day. Walking to the station I notice that my 4G signal has dropped – ‘when will coverage be reliable?’ I wonder. 5G can’t come quick enough! I get on the train, again wireless is available, but coverage is flaky so the emails I draft on route will just have to queue to be sent for now - rather frustrating. I step off the train and get an urgent call to send the spreadsheet I was working on immediately. I could tether my laptop to my phone but manage to find a coffee shop, connect to the Wi-Fi there and get the information sent. Now, to the office where unfortunately the wireless isn’t great and certainly doesn’t cover all areas.
I reach the desk and setup using the WiGig enabled wireless docking station for my laptop and a wireless, keyboard and mouse. Whilst working, I do wonder why I don’t seem to be able to wirelessly connect from my laptop to my monitor when I use Airplay at home from my tablet? Also, wouldn’t it be great if my laptop could charge wirelessly from maybe a pad on the table? Talking of which, my new monitor has Qi built into the base which is so convenient towards the end of the day when my phone battery is running low. I do say that my desk looks a lot tidier than it used to and not having to carry a power cable with me any longer has happily made my bag a few pounds lighter! I notice the monitor is still powered directly though so remind myself to ask IT when these will also be PoE ready. Time to head to the meeting room to see the team. I’m still connected to the WLAN but my UC Presence says I am “In a meeting” so don’t get interrupted. I use a wireless dongle to connect my laptop to the display and work on our content – its great and I wonder why more companies I know don’t use something similar? Then we’re off to meet the client! Hope we win the business!”
This scenario is all too familiar. We have made great leaps forward in connectivity on the move, but there are gaps. Speed, network congestion, energy efficiency cost and reliability issues must be addressed. When will laptops be 5G enabled? When will there be a national wireless hotspot (and not just in coffee shops)? These questions and others will see the wireless debate continue to rage and push the boundaries of what is possible.
The death of the cable?
“The death of the cable is a common misnomer,” explains Steve Jarvis, Commercial Director at Cordless Consultants. “We may see the death of the visible cable, but buildings will still need a considerable number of wires, albeit in different places” he continues.
Then there’s Li-Fi. We’ve talked about the use of visual light communication in place of RF for years. Now technology is coming to the fore that can capitalise on the use of Li-Fi’s higher frequency and enormous bandwidth.
Bob Metcalfe, inventor of the Ethernet, has said that the power of a network increases proportionally by the square of the number of users (Metcalfe's Law) which puts IoT –forecasted to be 50 billion connections by 2020 - in a powerful position.
With the propensity for practically anything to become a smart IoT endpoint, and the rise of standards such as PoE we can reduce the number of wires needed by sharing connectivity. The network can now start to use alternative building spaces and connectivity routes through buildings, like ceilings instead of under floors.
Jason Green, MD of Building Zones said: “We definitely need less cabling than we used to. Take a floor with 100 desks. That used to require 200-400 ports. With a modern wireless network, you only need 4 or 5 Access Points and associated switch ports. That’s a huge reduction in infrastructure, which is far greener and uses less power."
Jason believes power is the big game-changer in terms of the wireless experience. How long a device will work for between charges is key.“Wireless power combined with, different fuel cells and better battery technology will extend the life of devices beyond hours to days or weeks” he predicts. “When we no longer have to fit 13 Amp sockets and fixed floor boxes everywhere within a building, then you can have a truly flexible workplace as well as a wire-free experience.”
What is clear is that we will only continue to demand access to more data, faster. The challenges are to reduce the energy needed to operate wireless networks and find better alternative energy sources.
Until then...where's that coffee shop?