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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Government wireless networks desperately need an upgrade

Today’s government IT networks are at a crossroads. For too long, these networks have been locked into old technology, and agencies have not had the budget to innovate. Current systems are delivering a poor experience – for both end users and IT teams – and prevent new technologies from enabling agency missions.

While government IT has stagnated, private-sector IT has raced forward, roughly doubling performance and capacity every five years. Technology giants such as Google and Amazon have leveraged new technologies to unlock gigantic value and productivity, creating new consumer experiences. They have dramatically raised expectations of what IT can accomplish and how it should be provided.

Wireless is the new network onramp for accomplishing the mission. Industry partners with both traditional Ethernet and wireless expertise can provide government agencies with an IT infrastructure on par with the leading tech giants of today. This will enable agencies to meet modernization goals and improve the IT experience for both internal and external users.

The time to upgrade is now, because the government wireless onramp needs a lot of repair. Two recent polls conducted by The Government Business Council highlight the need for immediate action.

The first survey asked government employees about the state of their agency’s wireless or Wi-Fi networks. The results were sobering:

  • 50 percent rated their work network poor or very poor.
  • 63 percent said that their workday wireless experience was worse than what they encounter elsewhere.
  • 49 percent said the poor wireless experience hindered their productivity in fulfilling the mission.

The results from the second poll highlight employee dissatisfaction with current policies and the poor user experience relating to federal wireless networks:

  • Only 23 percent of respondents were satisfied with their agency’s bring-your-own-device policy.
  • 22 percent were not allowed to use their personal devices at all, and 40 percent of those that can reported having to jump through onerous IT policy hoops.
  • Over 61 percent felt that security concerns trump and interfere with workplace efficiency.

New wireless technology allows agencies to meet these challenges in a far more efficient and economical way. Wireless local-area networks have made dramatic leaps in performance over the past few years. And a better end-user experience is just the beginning of the benefits. Performance can be enhanced while improving security and lightening the load on the IT department.

Newer software-as-a-service platforms make certificate-based solutions easier to implement as front ends to existing Network Access Control (NAC) solutions, enabling new customization features that reduce administrative overhead and complexity. These new certificate solutions are agnostic -- they can integrate into any network and can be deployed via the cloud or on-premises. Users register their devices one time, and from then on, connectivity is seamless.  Certificates are fully customizable to the specific workflow of the agency, and the IT team retains granular policy control over data access.

Certificates leverage a public key infrastructure, a well-established method for the secure transfer of electronic information. Email clients, servers and smartphones have PKI support built in, and multiple certificate sources can be accommodated. Wireless network connections are protected with WPA-2 Enterprise, while also mitigating WPA-2’s vulnerability to KRACK attacks. And many of the new solutions are much less expensive because they are priced per user not per device, which is the current pricing model for government NAC solutions.     

With new technology, cities and bases can be made “smart” via wireless networks with a speed and efficiency unheard of just a few years ago, even in environments traditionally inhospitable to wireless connectivity, like inside steel buildings or across rural communities. These smart systems are advanced and future-proofed, ready to evolve and deliver whatever performance the towns need moving forward.

When updating a wireless government network, it’s important to remember that the network of the future requires a heterogeneous environment. Agencies must ensure that they work with best-of-breed partners for all elements of their network -- especially the edge. With technology advancing so quickly, agencies should not put all their IT eggs in one contractor’s basket.

Agencies can’t continue to ask employees to accept an inferior user experience every time they log in at work. Specific smart city initiatives such as New York City’s LinkNYC have demonstrated a better way forward, with clearly established best practices. By leveraging the latest technology, agencies can improve the user experience, simplify management and reduce costs.

Much like many of our country’s roads and bridges, the government wireless onramp is in desperate need of maintenance. The good news is the right technology can give agencies a wireless network worthy to the mission, both quickly and economically.  

About the Author

Chris "CT" Thomas is senior systems engineer with Ruckus Networks.

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