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When physical and virtual converge: What it means for connectivity demand

Sanjiv Verma, Vice President, Asia Pacific, RUCKUS Networks, CommScope talks to Enterprise IT News about connectivity trends as organisations try to balance between physical and virtual working.

EITN: Are the benefits of connectivity going to be more significant now than during wide-scale lockdowns?

Sanjiv: Although many are slowly returning to workplaces or schools, and people are starting to meet face-to-face more often, most organisations have still kept to a hybrid or blended model in light of the evolving situation, as evident in a recent Mckinsey survey. We will see a refinement of connectivity trends that were born during the last two years with a renewed emphasis on enhancing experiences through robust network access and connectivity.

Furthermore, the expected evolution towards converged IT and OT networks will also see businesses turning to the cloud for a central and universally accessible resource for storing and processing network information.

One example will be the need to maintain large-scale hybrid networks to respond to increasing demand for seamless, interconnected workplace experiences, resulting in growing pressure on ensuring returns on capital investment in network and smart building equipment.

The elevated levels of in-building connectivity will also blur the lines between a building’s IT and Operational Technology (OT) teams, requiring facilities’ OT such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting to require robust network access as much as enterprise users, in order to enable further automation.

Furthermore, the expected evolution towards converged IT and OT networks will also see businesses turning to the cloud for a central and universally accessible resource for storing and processing network information.

A cloud-first approach to a converged network will offer granular visibility into the network, and enables easier aggregation and management of a company’s network resources, whether employees are working from their homes or at the office’s premises.

The exponential growth of APAC’s smart cities and booming regional demand for connected solutions is also expected to drive more widespread and sophisticated connectivity use cases in the urbanised areas. Potentially, such growth might uncover the emergence of true interconnected ecosystems between key facilities and installations.

For example, digitally linking universities, hospitals and public utilities to common use cases such as parking, traffic control, crowd management, and retail around buildings and spaces, through intelligent, cost-efficient networks that properly harness data, energy, space, budgets, and time.

EITN: Which sector do you see the most impact on, as economies open up and try to embrace a hybrid of physical and virtual?

Sanjiv: With the digital health market size projected to cross US$107 billion in Asia Pacific by 2026, the healthcare sector will continue to see growth, especially with the rapid emergence of telehealth solutions. Beyond online consultations, use cases can also include medical telemetry, the movement of confidential patient data, and even telesurgery.

The recent conversation around the metaverse’s true impact, including leveraging Artificial Intelligence and mixed reality to deliver immersive experiences, has also seen its momentum carried over into healthcare. For instance, we see the first successful holography-guided heart surgery by a team of surgeons from Singapore’s National University Heart Centre, promises to be the first of many new experience-based medical services.

These innovations in digital healthcare are enabling traditional physical barriers to be broken down, by providing patients real-time medical information access and enhanced education on their condition and treatments, on top of allowing medical staff to process patient data around the clock.

The recent conversation around the metaverse’s true impact, including leveraging Artificial Intelligence and mixed reality to deliver immersive experiences, has also seen its momentum carried over into healthcare. For instance, we see the first successful holography-guided heart surgery by a team of surgeons from Singapore’s National University Heart Centre, promises to be the first of many new experience-based medical services.

Efficient and successful adoption of such use cases that enable vibrant engaging experiences and provide new levels of accessibility and capabilities to drive real patient outcomes, can only be enabled by a bedrock of high-bandwidth, low-latency network connectivity.

EITN: What are the main trends you see for 2022?

Sanjiv: The continued intertwining of physical and digital experiences can empower further change for industries that are expected to bounce back stronger in 2022.

In the education sector, the ideal vision is for every classroom and lecture hall to accommodate hybrid-learning environments that are equally engaging for in-person and remote students alike. Classrooms must be outfitted with microphones, cameras and video screens to support this mode of learning, with every student also having personal digital devices. Although the set-up is possible, the challenge would be to build up the network infrastructure to support that vision.

Building automation systems for heating & cooling, lighting, smoke/vape detectors and electronic locks moving onto IP networks, is also pushing the need for convergence.

Lastly, despite the slow recovery of travel across Asia compared to other regions, hotels are already looking at new ways to make their facilities more attractive to guests.

Large-scale events and sporting venues will strive to elevate visitor experiences. This could be through enhancing convenience through touchless ticketing and concessions, providing online information on congestion at concession stands or bathrooms, and performing automated temperature screening for visitor safety. Furthermore, venues will constantly share information with their visitors, as well as stream video to remote fans.

For hybrid workplaces, connectivity will remain critical for digital and physical experiences to blend seamlessly for more robust interactions. Employers are also embracing the remote-working style to gain more productivity at lower costs. For instance, companies are reassessing their investments in new real estate or reconfiguring existing office space for ad hoc workstyles. Businesses that have invested in developing smart campuses, are working to make them more attractive to workers with new amenities such as gyms and onsite childcare.

Lastly, despite the slow recovery of travel across Asia compared to other regions, hotels are already looking at new ways to make their facilities more attractive to guests.

Additionally, the industry also now competes with public venues for hosting meetings. To stay ahead of the competition, hotels are deploying faster and more pervasive Wi-Fi systems, and smarter facilities empowered by IoT to enhance guest experiences.

EITN: What are the technologies that will enable these trends and how can connectivity help?

Sanjiv: Connectivity will ultimately be key in supporting universities in staying competitive through seamless hybrid learning programs and smart campuses. To power the digital classroom, inside each facility, we expect a shift towards converged networks, as digital learning networks, in-building cellular, switching and cabling plant, and IoT systems all come together and push for collaboration between IT and operational technology departments.

Building automation systems for heating & cooling, lighting, smoke/vape detectors and electronic locks moving onto IP networks, is also pushing the need for convergence.

Large-scale events and sporting venues will strive to elevate visitor experiences. This could be through enhancing convenience through touchless ticketing and concessions, providing online information on congestion at concession stands or bathrooms, and performing automated temperature screening for visitor safety. Furthermore, venues will constantly share information with their visitors, as well as stream video to remote fans.

In the case of large-scale venues, the time is now to start investing in next generation Wi-Fi 6 solutions. Although the common trend was to let mobile operators or neutral hosts deploy systems that enhance mobile coverage, with applications expanding, we are set to see more Wi-Fi networks in venues such as stadiums and arenas.

In the hospitality sector, guest internet and back-of-the-house systems are both converging onto IP networks for greater efficiency as hotels move to the cloud for guest services and applications.

Building automation systems for heating & cooling, lighting, smoke/vape detectors and electronic locks moving onto IP networks, is also pushing the need for convergence.

Ultra-dense environments with a very large number of users and devices present create unique Wi-Fi challenges that lead to a deterioration in the Wi-Fi network performance. Through Wi-Fi 6, large venue operators can mitigate issues with connecting several devices on a single network, bringing better performance to crowded environments with hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous connected users and devices.

In the hospitality sector, guest internet and back-of-the-house systems are both converging onto IP networks for greater efficiency as hotels move to the cloud for guest services and applications.

Furthermore, the sector is experiencing a heightened interest in security, with hotels adopting SD-WANs to address real concerns around network hacking. As for infrastructure, while they leverage Wi-Fi for in-building connectivity, hotels are also looking to mobile operators to scale their macro networks.