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Managing SD-WAN Broadband, Wireless Access Challenges


A person monitoring their SD-WAN from a laptop
Image: everythingpossible -
Since SD-WAN appliances are a part of an orchestration and management platform, enterprises can take advantage of a host of associated benefits, including zero-touch provisioning, simplified policy updates, optimal path selection, application prioritization, integrated security, and improved cloud performance. Additionally, enterprises can deploy lower-cost Internet circuits and leverage faster bandwidth at branch locations to empower their networks — a true game changer. But beware: Installation of circuits in the any-access paradigm of SD-WAN poses many challenges that require human intervention and expertise to solve.
Broadband Access Challenges
Gone are the days of guaranteed structure and predictability. Previously, network carriers offered access services from local exchange carriers (LECs) that they had structured agreements with, and the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) monopoly in each area had to provide service into every building in their territory. Under that paradigm, any time a building was constructed, coordinating entrance facilities with the ILEC was a standard step in the construction process managed by the general contractor. Buildings were typically constructed with sufficient entrance facilities, so you could be reasonably assured that nearly all buildings in your enterprise could be served by a LEC or ILEC access circuit sold and delivered to your network carrier in a structured, predictable manner.
The rules are different with the cost-effective broadband circuits, which are often provided by cable TV companies. These companies are under no obligation to connect to every building in an area; they build their network where they choose. After orders and site surveys are completed, anywhere between 25-40% of the buildings in a large network will come back with some degree of challenges when it comes to connecting the SD-WAN to the broadband network in the area.
When it comes to delivering access to the location, there are a host of challenges that can't be effectively dealt with by the standard systems and automated procedures typically used when deploying large networks. To get cost-effective circuits into these challenging locations in a timely manner, there must be a team of seasoned network access coordinators working on your behalf. These experts can address the myriad of issues that typically arise, such as stalemates between landlords and provider network construction departments on building access, right of entry agreements, high construction costs, and delivery of circuits to undesirable locations within the buildings — to name a few.
Standard processes and automation are not going to address these challenges effectively, you need a seasoned, effective team with enough time to dedicate to dealing with each situation uniquely. If you do not have the internal resources to commit to this effort (and few IT teams do), you will need to rely on the aggregator’s provisioning and project management teams or use a third party to drive the effort.
Wireless Access Options Are Different
Cellular Internet access has its own set of challenges, such as signal strength, robustness, and cost. But if it’s a fit for an organization, cellular Internet access can easily be deployed. In a self-managed network, the enterprise will procure wireless access service directly from a wireless carrier and be able to select from whichever of the wireless carrier’s rate plans are the most advantageous for their evolving usage profile. When wireless access is re-sold by an SD-WAN solution provider, their wholesale agreements may limit the flexibility available to change rate plans as usage profiles change, which can cause expensive consequences if not properly managed.
On the flip side, managed SD-WAN solution providers that resell wireless access as a part of their network service often have agreements with multiple wireless carriers and provide the option to use whichever wireless network offers the best coverage in each location, often combining all the usage into one data usage pool, simplifying data management. Additionally, an SD-WAN provider might leverage wireless signal SIM cards from multiple providers, and the one with the strongest coverage will be kept active and in service. Options for wireless network services are evolving rapidly, so it pays to ask questions to understand the differences between your various wireless access options and to push SD-WAN providers to offer options that will best support your business.
While SD-WAN is indisputably the network technology to be embracing, to successfully transition, you need to plan for and proactively manage the selection and installation process, taking into account unforeseen events and delays. Don’t underestimate the effort to provision access for SD-WAN services. Make sure you have a seasoned team acting on your behalf, and if you are using a reseller or other third party, vet their provisioning capabilities and hold them to deployment commitments. Advance planning for your SD-WAN network through the lens of an expert will enable your company to reap its rewards now and into the future.

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"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.