4G Isn’t Just For Phones: LTE As A Backup Network

By | January 30, 2016

LTE availability and performance make it a viable option for branch office, retail WAN redundancy: Some options and considerations

This column summarizes a report done for Channel Partners available here (with registration). 


Reliable network connectivity is such a fundamental requirement for the digital business and mobile lifestyle that most people consider it on par with power and water: a critical utility. For individuals, network downtime is arguably an inconvenience, your Facebook feed will be waiting for you when the cable modem comes back online, but for business it’s a matter of money. When the network goes down, sales and critical business processes grind to a halt. Although data center and campus networks are hardened with multiple WAN connections, multi-WAN load balancing and link failover, branch offices, retail stores and temporary locations like construction sites, drilling rigs and convention center booths are almost always dependent on a single connection.

Today, there’s an easy way to boost remote site availability with an independent, redundant circuit using wireless LTE. Availability is virtually universal in North America with 5-bar coverage and usage constantly increasing. According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) there are one billion LTE subscribers worldwide growing at a 29% CAGR over the next five years, while most recent Ericsson mobility report pegs current LTE North American penetration at 40%, expected to hit 90% by 2020.

Ericsson-LTE-penetration

From Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2015.

Indeed, LTE provides more than enough speed to act as a remote backup network. There are several ways to seamlessly integrate LTE into a site’s WAN using existing equipment, but don’t worry, you needn’t ask employees to tether their PCs to a smartphone. The most common is support for plugging a USB modem like the AT&T Beam or Verizon MiFi into a WAN router or UTM appliance, however those aren’t the only options.

Typical backup WAN using LTE, courtesy Cisco.

Typical backup WAN using LTE, courtesy Cisco.

In general, for branch locations without a secondary WAN link we recommend that organizations strongly consider adding LTE to the mix. Download the full report (your reward for making it this far) for details. We also advise investigating LTE, in conjunction with a VPN for maximum security, for securely isolating internal networks from public-facing systems, at least for low-bandwidth applications like PoS transactions. Hardware and LTE service options abound, so there’s no reason to leave remote employees and customers exposed to the vagaries of a single broadband carrier.