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How will IoT products and UC apps impact the network?

As the number of connected devices and UC applications grows in the enterprise, IT must take steps to improve the network, such as adding access points and increasing bandwidth.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to have a tremendous impact on networks and bandwidth utilization. According to Cisco networking data, users are estimated to each have an average of 5.5 connected devices by the end of 2020. UC can change network needs, too, with forwarding and call handoff requirements, creating the need for a meshed antenna system, or at least a fully zoned cable plant in the ceiling.

Intelligent lighting solutions, building automation systems, security and UC should all rely on a single cable plant. That is harder to do in the U.S. since there are so many specialties, but the savings are massive. Disruption to the building and other services is minimized in a zone distribution plan, and agility is a huge benefit as well. Power distribution is a huge perk of structured systems as Power over Ethernet distribution represents massive Capex and Opex savings over power bricks and additional electrical connections.

The tricky part is that the traffic increases from IoT products and UC applications will likely be sporadic, especially at sites with more transient workforces. Some of the increases will be seen on both the wireless and wired LAN connections. When you begin to add devices to wireless networks and wireless signals to environments, it can result in multipath, where signals bounce off other signals. The remedy is to add additional access points.

As bandwidth becomes saturated and used, the solution is to increase the bandwidth to the antenna. The newer 802.11ac wireless standard was published as a solution to some of these bandwidth problems caused by IoT products. When fully implemented at the highest bandwidth, two cables are used instead of one. There are fewer channels, but the channels have more packet-carrying capacity.

Active electronics manufacturers, and in fact IEEE as a whole, put a lot of stock in broad market appeal. It can be difficult to sell new active electronics technology that requires a cabling upgrade, as networking departments don't control the cabling budget.

Generally, networking departments have one budget and the facilities department controls the cabling budget. With that in mind, broad market appeal looks to use as much of an existing installed base as possible. In many cases, using outdated technology is a detriment to an overall budget and power considerations, but there is a lot to be said for being able to upgrade network equipment without having to upgrade cabling.

Because of the two-cable requirement, which most enterprises don't have, 802.11ac access points may not be viable if there is not a budget to upgrade cabling. Now, IEEE is actually going backward, trying to use a Band-Aid approach by creating 2.5G and 5G Wi-Fi chips that will work on category 5e and 6 cabling. The expectation is these categories already exist in those environments to attach access points.

So, you can move forward with 802.11ac or wait for the 2.5 and 5G Wi-Fi chips to come out. The most likely immediate scenario is you will be adding access points and cabling to run them in open office environments or you will have employees turning cell phones into hot spots. That can cause problems in buildings with low-E glass and the resulting lousy cell reception, so it may be necessary to add a distributed antenna system to accommodate the cell signals required.

In short, I think IoT products and UC applications -- and all other networked devices -- will change the way we design buildings and networks. It already has in some areas of the globe, and others that have taken note of the savings are beginning to follow.

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