What BYOD means for the future of enterprise Wi-Fi

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The flood of personal mobile devices into the enterprise is taxing the enterprise's Wi-Fi networks, which were not originally intended to handle the current volume of wireless traffic.

Wireless operators, device manufacturers and mobile management vendors see an increasing opportunity to help enterprises building out their Wi-Fi services and integrate them into other networks, such as wireless and cellular networks.

"Enterprise Wi-Fi service has become more than just employees only. There is a lot of thinking that goes on about how you provide it for your contractors, suppliers, consultant and guests. So the enterprise Wi-Fi networks are multiplying," Mike Sapien, principal analyst with Ovum Enterprise Practice, told FierceMobileIT.

Complicating this picture, enterprise network services need to include private, public and hybrid Wi-Fi networks to accommodate permanent and temporary employees, as well as guests. Multiple Wi-Fi networks increase enterprise network complexity and the need for planning, he explained.

In a research note, Sapien explained that chief information officers are starting to understand the "critical element" that Wi-Fi plays in a comprehensive IT services portfolio.

"Demand for such services is increasing year-on-year, and the widespread use of smartphones and tablets means this demand now extends beyond just a few users, sites, or employees. This trend is pushing the limits of most existing Wi-Fi networks within the enterprise, and end users increasingly expect better coverage, more bandwidth, and additional service support," he wrote.

IT professionals who handle network planning now need to include Wi-Fi coverage, management, monitoring and security into their assessments.

"The enterprise CIO also has to plan for roaming Wi-Fi and the integration of Wi-Fi into the mobile program and policy. The increasing use of smartphones and tablets, combined with the increasing costs of data services from mobile operators, requires close analysis and planning so that CIOs can provide the least cost options," Sapien wrote.

"Employees bring their devices into the corporate world and want to have an experience similar to their personal uses of these devices," said Rohit Mehra, vice president of network infrastructure at IDC. "This has been the impetus for IT to expand and grow their infrastructure and make it more robust to give the enterprise employee a holistic experience," Mehra told FierceMobileIT.

The other trend with enterprise Wi-Fi involves social networking and collaboration. "Applications that ride on top of mobile infrastructure in the areas of social business, collaboration or video have also been drivers for the build out of Wi-Fi in the enterprise," he said. To handle these additional burdens, IT has been "increasing the density and scale of the Wi-Fi buildouts," Mehra observed.

Dan Shey, practice director for M2M, enterprise and verticals at ABI Research, agreed that BYOD is the main challenge posed to enterprise Wi-Fi. "Many enterprises have been caught off guard with respect to the smartphone and tablet connection impacts on their Wi-Fi network."

Unfortunately, when enterprises are setting up mobile policy, internal enterprise Wi-Fi network use is "last on the list" of priorities, Shey told FierceMobileIT.

We've consulted with a number of industry experts to find out how enterprises can keep up with the BYOD trend, while still keeping their Wi-Fi networks in check. First, we take a look at how BYOD has affected Wi-Fi equipment spending.

Additionally, to help enterprises understand the challenges of BYOD and Wi-Fi networks, we are holding a webinar on Wi-Fi optimization March 13 at 2 p.m., EST. For more information, please check out our website.