The proliferation of mobile devices and applications is creating unique communication network challenges for federal government institutions. With the surge of new smartphones and multimedia devices, CIOs and CTOs are dealing with growing demands by employees to deliver improved productivity and efficiency that mobile networks are continuing to provide.

The resulting task is monumental and multifaceted, including managing smartphones and other mobile devices, ensuring multi-carrier support, setting security parameters and prioritizing access control for all the mobile devices on their networks.

Enterprises, including federal government agencies, have had to react to the explosion of data demands on their fixed-line networks while concurrently accommodating the needs of an increasingly mobile workforce. These changes in mobile use have led to a convergence of mobility and data, which has necessitated a fundamental shift in network design, models and architecture.

That’s why now is the time to rethink network strategies to address the distinct needs for mobility.

Analysts point to the fact that 35% to 50% of the enterprise workforce today is mobile. Users rely heavily on their mobile devices for a broad range of communications. This is a universal trend and enterprise communication networks need to be designed to address changing work habits and cultures. To support business productivity and efficiency, mobile network infrastructure needs to be incorporated into the communications network strategy.

In 2012, Breaking Gov asked 300 federal mobility decision makers, how many hours per week they could recapture or redeploy if employees were fully enabled to work with mobility. Over 49% believed they could recapture more than 7 hours per week and 19% expected to recapture over 12 hours per week. Additional savings were also identified in reduced real-estate costs (telework) and hardware costs.

The federal government is embracing “Mobile First” and “Cloud First” strategies. These initiatives speak to the strong increases in efficiency and productivity that mobility provides. In order to capture these savings, quality coverage and scalable capacity are essential.

Mobile Infrastructure: The New, Last Mile

There are a number of questions surrounding mobile infrastructure and the type of deployment needed to support mobile communications in Federal properties. For example:

  • Can one network infrastructure be built to support multiple wireless service providers?
  • Can a single network support the variety of technologies inherent in a BYOD, Bring Your Own Device, mobile device strategy?
  • Can the network infrastructure be designed to scale as capacity requirements dictate without necessitating a costly rebuild?
  • How is security addressed at a network level in addition to those initiatives being taken at the device level?

Answering these questions requires an understanding of how the wireless industry has evolved.

In the past, mobile voice was predominant and was effectively supported by traditional macro-cellular (cell tower) network infrastructures. The technology and network requirements did not mandate indoor network infrastructure at the enterprise level.

However, recent advanced cellular technologies and the related explosion in mobile data have limited the radius, penetration and propagation of the radio frequency (RF) signal from the macro cellular antennas.

The need to facilitate data throughput and network performance has necessitated that RF signals move closer to the end-user. This is accomplished with outdoor and indoor Distributed Networks.

The Case for Distributed Networks

Distributed networks, as used here, defines a broader category of technology implementations including Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), Remote Radio Heads and related Base Band Units, Small Cells and WIFI access points.

These technologies bring the RF source closer to the user, thereby enhancing network performance and data throughput and providing an infrastructure that can scale with capacity demands.

Distributed network architectures can be designed as multi-carrier and multi-technology platforms. In an outdoor environment, a distributed network uses aesthetically unobtrusive antennas and RF sources on existing infrastructure (i.e. utility poles or streetlights). These are connected via fiber optic cable to a central HUB that may host equipment from various wireless carriers. In an indoor environment, the antennas and RF sources are deployed throughout the facility to provide the necessary network coverage and capacity.

Oftentimes, the outdoor and indoor networks can be integrated if they are in close proximity. This multi-carrier/multi-technology solution creates a neutral-host operator environment, also known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Neutral-host operators design, build, own and operate the distributed network on behalf of the enterprise and the wireless carriers.

Neutral hosts use a technology agnostic approach to ensure that the appropriate network architecture is used. This ensures the appropriate solution for the operating environment and creates an RF envelope in the coverage area. The design of these networks also provides seamless connectivity to the wireless carrier networks.

Security and BYOD

As government agencies evaluate “BYOD – Bring Your Own Device” programs (where staff bring their own mobile devices to their work environments), they will need to provide high performing network connectivity and capacity to facilitate staff work on these devices.

This leads to numerous security and access control questions. We support an Integrated Distributed Network Architecture platform that will ensure seamless monitoring of the usage and performance of the enterprise network.

This type of architecture also provides the ability to proactively manage network activity, respond to abnormal events, ensure call log management and prioritize access levels for all mobile devices registered and authorized on the network. It also facilitates a robust communications infrastructure to address specific needs in first responder or emergency situations.

Although the federal government’s communications needs have many of the same characteristics as those in commercial enterprises, government environments also have unique security requirements. DoD facilities, research campuses and the myriad of other secured facilities within federal government agencies are just a few examples.

These issues make the distributed network approach a secure, cost effective way to for the Federal Government to provide the flexibility, scalability and capacity required in their ever-changing mobile environments.

Ross Manire is president and CEO of ExteNet Systems, a leader and innovator in open, intelligent and distributed networks used by wireless carriers, sports and entertainment venues, commercial real estate, healthcare, higher education, hospitality and government agencies.