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What Happens When Users Come Back to Offices?

19 May 2020

Will their video meetings come along?

Regardless of where we are located, everyone is hoping for a return to some level of normalcy. After weeks of shelter in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, entire countries are ready to get back to normal. Clearly, before we can return to many offices, there will need to be considerations of safety in those spaces.

One thing employees will bring back from their weeks in shelter is an adoption of advanced UC meetings and collaboration tools and their video capabilities. Microsoft, Cisco, and Zoom have all reported 10x or more increases in video usage, and that growth continues. As I indicated in this article on No Jitter, employees are unlikely to totally abandon these capabilities when they return.

This rapid adoption will be a challenge in many locations. While employees were working from home and using 3-4 hours of video a day, that traffic was predominately being handled over the consumer network, through the employee’s ISP and their connections to the rest of the Internet. Those same networks have been scaling to deal with video streaming and other services but have had to invest heavily to manage the increased demand of business video chat during COVID-19. Now some, or even most, of those video conversations are going to come back to the office. As most users doing a video meeting at the office will now be on the office network, the traffic will now be within the company network.

This new demand will come to offices that are often underserved. While newer high-speed access technologies such as fiber and cable are available in urban areas, in suburban and rural areas, lower speed T1, DSL, and satellite internet connections are still often the standard. According to research provided by Ooma, over 2 million U.S. businesses use satellite or low speed DSL services. For businesses that operate in these areas, whether locally or as a branch of a larger national business, the lack of access speeds to support the increased service demands may be challenging. This service need is one of the areas that the emergence of 4G and now 5G wireless networks were designed to provide. While the mobile movement capability of the wireless infrastructure has been the dominant value over the last 40 years, the capability to provide advanced data services without the high cost of new terrestrial cabling remains a huge opportunity.

Leveraging this capability is not easy. Putting together an endpoint and plans is a challenge. An interesting option is coming from Ooma, a UCaaS provider that has been deploying wireless nodes for redundancy in UCaaS. Ooma realized that the advent of 5G is driving cost points in wireless bandwidth that make it an alternative to terrestrial connections. Based on this, Ooma is releasing a new offer of an Ooma Connect wireless base unit. It includes an 8 antenna MIMO array and a router unit. The router includes that capability to integrate to a terrestrial connection as a wireless back-up as well as analog telephone connections for local services and redundancy. The antenna unit can be located remotely for the best signal coverage while leaving the base router in the wiring closet. With an installed cost under $1,000, it is a very cost effective initial cost versus the cost of underground cabling.

One area of functionality is in managing real-time services in a multi-network environment. Ooma has developed unique capabilities for multi-packet transmission with their cloud voice solutions that minimize the impact of variable issues on voice quality.

While the actual product can be used with a range of mobile carriers, Ooma has partnered with Sprint/T-Mobile to offer an integrated cloud service.  The list price of monthly services run from $20 per month for voice or internet back-up to $100 per month for a primary business internet with 50 GB. At a 500Kbps rate, 50 GB would support over 500 hours of video per business day from a remote or branch site. Clearly this may be an alternative that is both easy to install and can be set up quickly. One key analysis is how rapidly the cost of bandwidth in mobile networks will drop as the increases in overall capacity of 5G come into the networks.

It will be interesting to see how the Ooma offer develops and how it is adopted. However, the larger story is how the wireless networks are preparing for the next war in access bandwidth. Over 97% of U.S. business locations have under 100 employees. Of the 7.6 M under 100 business locations, about 30% may not have sufficient capabilities to support advanced communications and collaboration services, as well as general internet. With 53% of U.S. employment in offices of under 100 employees according to the U.S. Census, providing the services needed to use the new video meeting tools will be a challenge and a necessity in the new normal. The increased bandwidth capabilities of wireless networks due to 5G may be the platform to provide advanced services to this range of locations.

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