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Solution Notes

Why Wireless Networking in an Uncarpeted Enterprise is Hard and how Ramen NaaS is making it Simple

July 16, 2024

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Within networking, wireless networking introduces even greater complexities. Unlike wired or fiber-based networks that can be thoroughly tested in a controlled lab setting, wireless networks cannot be replicated adequately in a lab. A solution to many of these challenges lies in adopting wireless networking as a service.

Networking presents numerous challenges due to the need to establish communication between diverse devices and entities from different vendors. In this multivendor environment, the fundamental expectation is that messages are transmitted with high accuracy and minimal delay. These messages can vary in formats, sizes, and addressing schemes. Given the intricacies of networking, several large equipment vendors have emerged to address these requirements across various industry segments and there are signs of an emerging transition to networking as a service. 

Within networking, wireless networking introduces even greater complexities. Unlike wired or fiber-based networks that can be thoroughly tested in a controlled lab setting, wireless networks cannot be replicated adequately in a lab. It is impossible to replicate the open space environment where radio waves propagate between transmitters and receivers in a wireless network. While individual radio links can be modeled, attempting to replicate a network with hundreds of access points within a specific environment is impossible in a lab. Consequently, each wireless deployment becomes highly unique and demands ongoing tuning and optimization after initial setup. 

The tuning and optimization process involves adjusting various parameters such as channel allocations, transmit power levels, handover thresholds for client devices, modulation and coding settings for specific radio links, and antenna beamforming parameters. Shifting load distribution, changes in spectrum availability, and client mobility trigger continual adjustments in the network's optimal configuration. This tuning and optimization is somewhat of an art form and isn’t a one-time task either. Traditionally it was done by multiple cycles of drive testing and adjustments which is both expensive and error prone. 

Effective optimization

Although wireless networking equipment vendors strive to incorporate algorithms for self- optimization, their efforts are hampered by the lack of access to network performance data. Effective optimization, particularly when using machine learning and AI techniques, requires access to comprehensive, real time performance data. In the absence of data availability, there is a tendency to overbuild, deploying excessive equipment to compensate for gaps in knowledge. While this might enhance signal strength in client locations, it can also introduce issues such as heightened interference, client confusion regarding radio connection decisions, and unnecessary switching between radios. 

A solution to many of these challenges lies in adopting wireless networking as a service. This approach allows continuous performance monitoring and timely adjustments leveraging the latest in AI technologies. While major service providers like AT&T and Verizon offer wireless as a service on a large scale, their approach is optimized for very large-scale deployments serving 10s of millions of consumers and is difficult to translate effectively to indoor or venue-specific enterprise deployments due to architectural issues and the highly custom requirements of enterprise deployments. The large cellular operator solutions for managed Wi-Fi service have failed commercially and their cellular band offerings are handicapped by the cost burden of the very expensive spectrum they use. Given these challenges, their approach to offering managed wireless service within enterprises has understandably been very tentative. 

In the enterprise context, the dominant wireless technology today is Wi-Fi deployed by enterprise IT departments and not purchased as a service. This creates a distinction between cellular technology, often provided as a service, and Wi-Fi, typically deployed by IT teams. Cellular operates on operator-owned expensive spectrum, whereas Wi-Fi utilizes unlicensed shared spectrum. Consequently, the equipment vendor landscape for each technology differs significantly. 

Recent regulatory changes have introduced the possibility of private cellular deployments using newly available spectrum. This opens the door for new entrants to operate as service providers and offer a unified service that encompasses both cellular and Wi-Fi technologies. This approach allows the selection of the most appropriate technology for each specific application. Cellular excels in wide area coverage and large venues where reliability and mobility are key, while Wi-Fi shines in scenarios requiring high raw data rates and involving quasi-static or slow- moving client devices. Creating a unified architecture and service to encompass these technologies, and potentially more, is a complex endeavor that demands a unique blend of skills and expertise. This is the path ahead, and Ramen Inc stands at the forefront of these developments. 

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