How networking innovation will power the future of work

TP-Link UK’s Managing Director, Will Liu, explores the challenges that working from home has placed on the necessity for greater connectivity.

Almost 60% of the UK’s adult population ‘worked from home’ during lockdown. For many, the line between workspace and personal space have blurred, some may say merged inextricably. The kitchen table morphs from office to classroom and back to a place to eat and catch up with the family, several times a day. To accommodate the lifestyle switch, spare bedrooms have transformed into working spaces and garden sheds have been upcycled to become quiet offices.

This year in particular, it’s hard to predict what’s round the next corner. One thing you can be sure of however is that technology, devices and the networks powering are here to stay. They are the key to staying connected, safe and productive whether you’re working from home, an office or the gym. To understand the technology driving the future of work, we must first take a look at the obstacles facing businesses and employees today.

Getting to grips with connectivity
Lockdown forced most of us to abandon the office and make alternative arrangements, with all the pros and cons that entails. One of the biggest challenges remote workers face is connectivity. For content creators, and people working with large files, networking has suddenly become a highly sought after household skill. Typically, Internet download speeds are far higher than upload speeds. While this is great for streaming Netflix, it has a massive impact on the time it takes to transfer large files like video or artwork to proof. It’s also one of the reasons your Zoom/MS Teams calls get disrupted.

Get to the roots of your network
Starting with the foundation of your network, your router must be at least dual-band. If you really want to make the network fly, tri-band adds a second 5Ghz network that can become the dedicated work channel leaving plenty of bandwidth for all the other day to day activities. Routers come packed with features, for example Quality of Service allows you to set bandwidth limits per device or prioritise different traffic types on the network. For purists who prefer a wired connection, make sure the router has sufficient Gigabit ports or add a Gigabit desktop switch to increase the number of ports available for wired devices which also takes some of the strain off your WiFi network.

Location, Location, Location
Lockdown has turned homes upside down, the spare room is now your personal Head Office and it needs the same connectivity as HQ. Where you put the router tends to be dictated by the position of your ISP connection leading to wireless dead-zones and weak WiFi connections. There are 3 families of solution to expand your network. For people using the wireless for email, surfing and limited streaming a wireless range extender boosts the range of your router’s wireless signal so it reaches further. For anyone who’s new home office is a long way from the router or have run power to an outbuilding then powerline adapters use your home’s electrical circuit to extend your network with wired and wireless connections. Finally, for a whole home solution to keep all the family happy, mesh networking provides a single, seamless network solution with super simple network management through an app.

With remote working likely to be here for the long term, it is crucial for businesses to assist its employees with connectivity to keep productivity and efficiency levels high. In some parts of the country, 4G provides a better performance than broadband. In which case, a wireless 4G router, will provide a stable, high speed connection by simply adding a 4G data SIM.

Supporting staff with Mesh
Working from home relies on a robust internet connection that supports employees with access to all files just as easily as they could when in an office environment. This includes the basics such as email, as well as cloud applications, file sharing tools, corporate VPNs and video conferencing platforms. With many households occupying numerous professionals working from home, reliable wireless connections have never been more important. In particular, video calls require a strong, stable connection for users to enjoy a smooth, uninterrupted video call.

Mesh networking enables users to extend wireless range and provide network management functionality to cap maximum download speeds to individual devices. Mesh is being adopted worldwide and uses nodes to provide a unified and seamless network throughout a building. This allows people to roam with a device without losing internet connection or experience any disruption. With more and more WiFi 6 products coming to market, device performance is increasing and security is being improved. WiFi 6 was originally designed to combat the growing number of devices in the world and is able to expand the WiFi band from 80 MHz to 160MHZ – doubling the channel width and eliminating any buffering.

A layer of security
In an office environment, business class access points provide additional functionality like virtual LAN’s. Creating a separate VLAN for key departments can improve performance and also adds an additional layer of security. However, ensuring employees have access to a secure network at home is just as vital. If an employee is trying to access critical information through a free WiFi portal, on an unknown personal device or via a shared network in a co-living space, business data is vulnerable to a range of security threats.

This can be overcome in a number of ways. For example, professionals facing long-term remote working can invest in a networking system that can deliver premium security protocols such as WPA3 encryption as standard. Alternatively, businesses can work closely with employees to assess the individual connectivity needs based on their role, and deliver a setup that can offer greater flexibility for staff and effective centralised cloud management for network managers.

The future of work will rely heavily on the next generation of networking solutions. Whether the responsibility falls on the employee or their employer, taking advantage of the advancing wireless technologies will create a safe and seamless working environment – wherever that may be.

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