I’ve been hearing for a while that the benefits of keeping a distributed enterprise connected wirelessly, could provide one of those rare occasions where CFOs and CTOs can actually agree on something.
As 4G networks from the major carriers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile continue to grow in coverage, speed and reliability, I began to consider whether I could tie multiple locations together via 4G rather than using the public WAN or a dedicated, managed service from one of the major providers. Then, if it were possible, could it be done so that I also got the quality of service my applications required at a cost lower than conventional MPLS solutions using VPN? Furthermore, would it make sense to build a multi-location 4G wireless network to serve as a backup in the event of catastrophic failure of hard-wired solutions?
I had a lot of questions and my first step in getting answers involved looking at speed and coverage the various 4G providers deliver, as I had no dreams of approaching the FCC to setup my own 4G infrastructure.
I found the interactive graph at OpenSignal.com (hover your mouse over the flag of the country you’re interested in). That gave me an overview of download speeds and coverage from the major providers, although I quickly realized I needed to look at speed and coverage at each of my locations. Fortunately, a free app from OpenSignal.com, which describes itself as “the global authority on wireless networks,” offered all the data I needed. Their 3G 4G WiFi Maps & Speed Test app showed me which carriers offer the best service at each location, including download, upload and latency statistics.
Armed with information on the carrier that delivered the best overall coverage and speed in my area, I asked our IT people at each remote location to measure speed and latency inside each room. In doing that, we found that some locations needed a signal booster and/or a high gain antenna on the roof to overcome the attenuation caused by the brick and mortar certain buildings interposed between the cell tower and the computer room.
Finally, I looked at various appliances that provide an interface between the 4G signal and the local area network. I considered several important issues, including remote management of the appliance; monitoring (and automatic reporting alarms) when latency or speed fell below acceptable values; load balancing and fail-over capabilities; and the ability to route traffic via conventional terrestrial networks.
This last issue is critical. Having a 4G network doesn’t mean it should be used for all traffic because 4G is metered and can be expensive. There’s no reason to pay for data transfer via 4G that can be handled more economically over non-metered terrestrial means.
If you’re considering a 4G network as an alternate path for your data as a backup for terrestrial traffic during an outage or to connect services like VoiP between you business locations, feel free to reach out. We would be glad to assist or point you to a trustworthy, local solution provider.