There is no doubting the impact that software defined networking (SDN) is having in changing traditional approaches to connectivity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the WAN with software defined wide area networks (SD-WAN).
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This combination of cheaper commodity line connections, fast and streamlined hardware, all controlled by remote management software in the cloud is growing fast. In part this is because it offers lower cost, while still being well managed and secure. It also delivers on the software defined potential for truly flexible connectivity and capacity.
Wireless Access for Transportation Services
Cellular or wireless connectivity is often a part of the SD-WAN proposition, generally as a resilient back-up connection in the event of physical line failure. However, it can also be used when there is no fixed alternative, to provide ad hoc networks, for example, in transport or logistics with Vehicular ad hoc networks (VANETs). A similar approach also works in static locations where the network requirement is short term. This could be an ad hoc extension to connect a remote building site or the emergency services at the scene of a major incident or fire.
Clearly mobile use cases rely completely on wireless connectivity. With the lower capacity available in the past, application functionality has been somewhat restricted. Meeting mobile WAN connectivity needs has also often required highly specialist hardware and unique skills.
However, faster cellular networks with ever improving coverage are becoming widely accessible. This means that with sufficient levels of performance and intelligence in the networking devices, multiple wireless connections can be bonded together for day-to-day, and not just emergency or short term, use.
With the improved coverage of 4G cellular networks, wireless-only WAN connections are now a reality in many locations. Next generation 5G are already looming close on the horizon – Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia have draft 5G radio prototypes in place, and some operators are already conducting field trials. Many more are planning trials for this year. This opens up opportunities for more capacity for existing mobile WAN use and more flexibility to static WAN locations.
New SD-WAN players, new applications
Companies such as Icomera and Option Wireless, have recently been joined in the mobile application space by others specifically offering hardware addressing in-vehicle and transport sector requirements. These include products from some of the larger incumbent networking hardware providers. In addition there are adaptable in-vehicle solutions from fast growing SD-WAN routing specialists such as Cradlepoint, Viprinet and Peplink.
The breadth of applications to which this approach is viable is also growing as the cost of providing connectivity falls. Once it was only cost effective to wirelessly connect cruise ships and railway trains. Now it is possible to connect the small boats which run in-harbour services and regular bus lines. This opens up wider usage to support operational management – fleets, marine or agriculture applications – and well as connectivity for passengers and staff or crew.
The use cases for fixed wireless connectivity are expanding as well. High speed low cost connection is readily achievable for the increasingly popular ‘pop-up’ locations in retail, entertainment and hospitality. This can now be done without needing wait for fixed infrastructure to be enabled. Higher wireless capacity will support rich media and video to deliver sophisticated applications to remote building sites and emergency services.
Simplified Management with SD-WAN
Specialist expertise and hardware designed for bonding and efficient network routing is being combined with software in the cloud to make management simpler and the network secured. Reliable, secure capacity means that existing applications can take advantage of rich media or video. Those emerging applications around the Internet of Things (IoT) will also be able to scale up as they rely on data feeds from huge numbers of sensors in far flung locations.
Cloud is often a major part of the hype surrounding SD-WAN, but does deliver security and flexibility. However, mobile and ad hoc applications also rely on effective exploitation of networking hardware, in particular the cellular element. This still requires specialist knowledge of radio networks and the ability to intelligently bond multiple cellular connections together to obtain the maximum and most reliable capacity.
Increasing use of cloud and software defined networks is delivering smarter management and flexibility to the WAN. To deliver the required levels of performance over wireless connections this has to be married with powerful and effective cellular hardware. Software defined, cloud controlled, and hardware empowered is the way forward.