4G Edge Routers On The Rise

Enterprise networks are increasingly leveraging 4G edge router technology for flexibility in providing connectivity for POS terminals, IoT devices and more.

August 17, 2015

3 Min Read
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There’s a network niche beyond the typical enterprise LAN, WAN, and WLAN that is growing fast and giving traditional networking a run for its money: 4G edge router technology. It’s easy to dismiss 4G as a personal technology that isn’t relevant to mainstream networking, until you bother to take a serious look at the growing role mobile networking is playing in business connectivity.

Companies like Cradlepoint, Novatel Wireless, CalAmp, and Mushroom Networks are among those leveraging the ubiquitous nature of cellular networks to provide Internet connectivity, and a whole lot more, to a range of challenging networking scenarios.

We’re talking about vehicle-based networking, “pop-up” networking where PCI-compliant point-of-sale terminals are needed for a few days in a given location, mobile government operations, and endless M2M situations ranging from digital signage to healthcare devices in the field. I’m an enterprise WiFi guy by trade, but my eyes are opening to the incredible flexibility brought about by 4G edge router technologies.

With traditional networking technologies, it’s hard to imagine getting thousands of buses in New York City configured to provide client WiFi for their riders. The notion of parallel networks also is gaining favor, where systems like POS devices or building-control systems are connected via private “inside” networks that connect to 4G on the outside. Since retailer Target was compromised via its HVAC system that was on the same LAN used for handling sensitive customer information, the parallel network model using 4G has become a much easier sell. 

Other use cases for 4G capabilities includes the proliferation of all sorts of kiosks in multiple locations, and even branch routers on traditional ISP or WAN connections, which are increasingly leveraging 4G as a backup option.

Let’s go back to those buses in New York City. Even though each bus has its own 4G modem and data plan, there’s more to the bigger picture. Managing that kind of distributed device inventory is a natural fit for the cloud, and companies like Cradlepoint have their own cloud dashboards and cloud-controlled feature sets that are analogous to what Aerohive and Meraki provide in the WLAN world. From network configuration and security policy enforcement to reporting and rate-limiting, these 4G networks very much mirror what WLAN vendors provide.

Also interesting is the data plan for each 4G device when companies buy them in bulk, and how it gets made more practical and affordable compared to what you and I would pay as individual Verizon or AT&T subscribers. In the bus fleet scenario, carriers give bulk rates to fleet customers, and data pooling lets those many 4G routers more efficiently consume cellular data to bring costs down significantly.

The devices themselves are fascinating with a range of radio and port counts. Different models can handle multiple carriers for resiliency, and vendors such as Mushroom Networks offer some really innovative 4G connection bonding options. The latest models of 4G edge routers from a variety of vendors feature 802.11ac on the WiFi side, varying Ethernet port counts, and software-defined radio (SDR) configurability that lets you reassign a given modem to another carrier without needing a site visit. I’m finding that these little components pack pretty large feature sets, and are Swiss Army Knives when it comes to answering unique and distributed network needs.

With the Internet of Things knocking at the door and all types of new devices finding their way onto the network, legacy LAN and WLAN just can’t be made available everywhere.  In the enterprise, the role of 4G edge router technology is only bound to grow.

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