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How to Build a Future-proof Network for SMBs?

A lot has shifted for business owners over the last few years. New applications and services are quickly changing the way how small and midsize businesses operate and how employees engage with customers to help your business thrive and prosper. The network is the backbone of your business and the key contributor that helps your company stay at the forefront. For companies that are experiencing network performance issues, future-proofing your network is vital to ensure your network is able to continue to meet your evolving needs as your business grows. Although it’s impossible to predict what kind of network is required, designing with the future in mind, you can make it easier to expand and upgrade your network later on. 

What’s a Future-proof Network?

With the explosive growth of the Internet of Things (IoTs) and cloud-based applications, your network must be able to offer the performance and quality of service needed to meet these new demands. A future-proof network can adapt to the ever-changing network demands with minimum costs and disruption on the deployed infrastructures, and deliver a faster Internet speed and a more reliable connection in day-to-day activities. Extensibility is one of the key architectural considerations when designing a network for SMBs. Networks of the future should stay ahead of traffic demands and provide support for new or updated services. To ensure that your company stays competitive in the years to come, your network should provide greater bandwidth and speed and allow for unlimited scalability, so you can spend less time and money managing your network and focus more on your business. 

Goals to target when future-proofing your network:

1) High Scalability

As your business grows, the number of devices being used on your network is only going to increase, so your network will also need to be scaled up to meet your evolving needs. More bandwidth will be required to let each device run at its optimal performance to create more efficiency and economies of scale. A future-proof network should be able to adapt to different mission requirements and ramp up its bandwidth capacity to accommodate large numbers of IT-connected devices and support increasing workloads in a more cost-effective way. 

2) Higher Level of Security

Security breaches have become commonplace in the world of online business. With the advancement of new technologies, cybersecurity issues also pop up simultaneously. Although many would install firewalls to safeguard their business networks, they are not without their frustrations. It should be noted that the firewalls only protect users on the premises, which makes remotely-connected servers or users vulnerable to many sophisticated security threats. To protect your data from breaches, intrusion and other threats, a future-proof network should support a higher level of security. 

3) Faster Internet Speed 

High-speed Internet networks have changed the way we live, work and learn. A broadband Internet connection allows you to transfer data at a much higher rate. Generally, the required Internet speed for a broadband network is merely 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload, which is sufficient to support most online activities like HD streaming, file sharing, web browsing, etc. But over the last decade, the broadband speed has increased exponentially all the way to 152Mbps download and 21Mbps upload. But to fulfill more demanding tasks like 4K streaming, online gaming, etc., 10Gps speed is required to shorten response time and reduce latency. And as the number of digital devices increases, more bandwidth is needed to ensure each device runs at its full capacity and keeps up with the increased traffic demands. 

How Much Network Speed Does Your Business Require?

A growing business needs a stable Internet connection to get the job done. Businesses are always focusing on maximizing productivity and evaluating how much speed you need is crucial. Factors that choosing business internet speeds vary from business to business but must be determined according to the number of devices in use and what tasks need to be done. As we touched down earlier, a company requires s a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps to complete day-to-day activities, like sending emails, downloading files, and browsing websites. But in reality, a good Internet speed these days is normally higher than the 25/3 minimum set by the FCC. For more complicated jobs, such as business transactions and video streaming, higher bandwidth is required. And as your company expands, a Gigabit-speed network (10/100/1000Mbps) can help you handle bandwidth-heavy tasks, such as video conferencing and multimedia presentation. 

What’s the Preferred Network Architecture for Future-proofing?

Rather than relying on a typical ring or star topology, where all nodes depend on one central server, to future-proof your network, you should choose a network topology where available capacity can be leveraged for maximum optimization. 

Recommended Topologies for SMB Networks:

Tree Topology: The tree topology is a network structure where the central hub functions as a trunk with other nodes stretching out in a branch-like fashion. It’s the combination of the bus topology and the star topology, however, the tree topology has a parent-child hierarchy where there’s only one connection between two connected nodes. It allows you to check out network issues systematically. The tree topology is widely used in large networks such as offices, campuses, and hospitals where devices need to be grouped together for centralized management. 

Mesh Topology: In a mesh system, all the nodes are interconnected. There are basically two forms of mesh topology: full mesh topology and partial mesh topology. In the full mesh network, each node is connected to every other node which makes it extremely resistant to failure but also challenging to implement and maintain, whereas in the partial mesh network, most nodes are interconnected but there are a few that are only connected to two or three other nodes. The mesh topology is often deployed in small-and-medium-sized businesses where a high-speed, low-latency network is highly valued. 

Hybrid Topology: A hybrid topology normally consists of two or more different network topologies to meet specific network requirements, which is commonly used in medium-to-large-sized enterprises. And there are very few constraints in this network structure since it’s highly flexible and adaptable to any equipment used. Moreover, the speed of the topology becomes fast when two topologies are put together. The hybrid network is highly scalable which enables easy integration of new hardware components, so you can customize your network by employing ring topology in one department and star topology in another. 

Top 3 Methods to Set Up a Future-proof Network

Updating legacy network architectures is a must for future-proofing. In general, a company will renew its network infrastructure every 5 years to stretch its network capacities, so if you are looking for better performance from your network, you should be investing in a gear that allows for years of network growth. And, here are 3 ways to help you retrofit your network: 

Solution 1: Deploy Fiber Optic Networks for Faster Internet

A fiber optic network is a broadband connection where data is transmitted in the form of light signals through fiber cables. As one of the most important technologies in communications, it provides the communication backbone of the Internet. Theoretically, the transmission speed of fiber optics could reach 2/3 the velocity of light in glass-made fiber optic cables. The average transmission speed is rated at 10 Gbps and more. Due to its inherent advantages: interference immunity, higher bandwidth and low latency, the fiber optic network has made itself stand out in building high-performance networks.  

“Fiber optic internet is a long-term, future-proof technology.”

Fiber connection is known for its longevity and durability with a prolonged service life of up to 50 years, which makes it a worthwhile investment in the long run. It is also very reliable for it is less susceptible to tapping or other security issues. What’s more, investing in fiber cabling will eliminate the need for regular network upgrades since it supports a huge bandwidth capacity that is hundreds of times higher than your legacy network systems. What’s more, although the fiber cables cost more than traditional copper wiring, this high-end technology is becoming more and more affordable to suffice everyday needs. 

Is Your Network Speed Symmetrical? 

Compared with asymmetrical networks, symmetrical networks can provide the same download and upload speeds simultaneously to ensure improved efficiency and quality of service for small and midsize businesses. With the symmetrical speeds, you can upload as fast as you download to perform bandwidth-demanding tasks like HD video streaming, large file transfers, etc. This network system is also ideal for companies that are making a transition to moving their applications and services to the Cloud to deliver reliable connectivity. And fiber is the only way that you can get symmetrical Internet, which gives you incredibly fast upload speeds and allow you to share bandwidth with a large number of other users without worries over a slow connection or long buffering time. The reason why fiber can deliver symmetrical network speeds is that it has a much larger capacity to carry vast amounts of data at a time. For small businesses where upload speed is a priority, investing in fiber Internet is s a smart move to prepare additional capacity for growth.

How to Set Up a Point-to-Point Fiber Optic Network? 

Installing a point-to-point (P2P) fiber optic network is a wise move to ensure high-speed network connectivity between the workstation and the terminal device. It can transfer data at higher throughput in a shorter amount of time because there are only two nodes/endpoints in the entire network link, which also makes it highly impervious to crosstalk or attenuation. 

Components You’ll Need:

• a fiber optic switch 

• fiber media converters

• SFP modules

• pre-terminated fiber optic cables

Fiber Optic Switch 

The fiber optic switch is a network device that transmits data through fiber optic cables and optical modules to other devices. It is widely applied in data centers, business networks and surveillance camera systems to realize centralized data management. With the invention of the fiber optic switch, network congestion is never a problem. Moreover, the fact that the fiber optic network is immune to electrical noise and EMI reduces disruptions and packet loss. Increased bandwidth and capacity also help accelerate data transfers in a busy network. Fastcabling has launched a 16+8 Ports Managed Fiber Ethernet Switch with 1Gbps Uplink to help you set up a highly reliable, Gigabit-speed network for your business. 

Fiber Media Converter

The fiber media converter offers a cost-effective method to retrofit the legacy network system, facilitate the media conversion between dissimilar media types, and create a seamless connection between the fiber optic cables and Ethernet cables. Media converters are an incredibly cost-effective solution to retrofit legacy systems into broadband networks without investing a great deal in new infrastructures. Fastcabling has launched several kinds of media converters to facilitate the media conversion between dissimilar media types, such as the mini Gigabit fiber Ethernet media converter and 2 port fiber PoE extender. And we’ve also launched a waterproof industrial hardened grade fiber PoE media converter (IP67-rated) that can also generate PoE power for the edge device with a regulated power output of 30W to power devices like IP cameras and wireless access points in hard-to-reach places.

SFP Module

The SFP module is a modular transceiver that plugs into the SFP port on the converter to facilitate the media conversion. The SFP modules are mainly classified based on their speed capabilities. Fastcabling has launched several types of SFP modules that deliver high-speed data transmission from 1Gps to 10Gps to support long-distance applications up to 10-20km. These SFP modules are designed for use with LC-type single-mode fiber optic cables. They feature a wide operating temperature range (-20℃~60℃/-40℃~75℃) and are equipped with excellent ESD protection to protect the devices from breakdown and malfunctioning. 

Pre-terminated Fiber Optic Cable

The per-terminated fiber cable arrives on-site with the connector attached and ready to install. It’s normally made at a pre-determined length, and it’s undeniable of higher quality than the field-terminated fiber cable. It is basically plug-and-play, which can be easily connected and disconnected, cutting off the deployment time by at least 70%. The pre-terminated fiber cable is manufactured and assembled in a well-controlled environment to ensure the best possible network performance, and signal loss can be highly restrained with thorough inspections. It is often used in mission-critical applications that demand the highest level of accuracy, like video surveillance systems.

Follow the Instructions Below for the Setup:

1. Connect the uplink port of the fiber optic switch to one of the LAN ports on the router;

2. Plug the SFP modules into the fiber switch and the PoE fiber media converters;

3. Use the pre-terminated fiber cables to connect the fiber switch and the media converters;

4. Power the fiber optic switch and the PoE fiber media converters; 

5. Use the Ethernet cables to connect the PoE fiber media converters to the PoE devices. 

Solution 2: Take Advantage of Power over Ethernet

Power over Ethernet (PoE) provides a powerful solution to supply power to the PDs from a centralized point rather than a collection of distributed power outlets. It transmits power and data via the same network cable to the powered devices (PDs), such as PTZ cameras, WiFi-6 access points, IP intercoms and POS machines, at a maximum distance of 100 meters (328ft.) to eliminate additional electrical wiring on the job site. But devices without PoE features can only receive the data through the Ethernet cable. PoE gives you more flexibility on where to place the devices since they don’t need to be tethered to an electrical outlet. The devices can be placed wherever they are needed most and repositioned easily if required. 

Benefits of Using PoE in SMB Networks

Compared to the traditional electrical wiring, PoE cabling allows for more efficiency in power distribution and management to realize a huge reduction in operating costs by 14% while helping SMB owners to meet their business objectives. Since PoE can support the transmission of up to 100 meters, so you won’t need to hire a professional to install additional electrical outlets in remote locations, saving money on both installation and maintenance. PoE also helps create a better workspace and deliver a better user experience. It allows small and mid-sized businesses to integrate lighting, security systems and other smart building applications into one single network, making them easier to control, measure and maintain. 

How to Build a Future-proof Network with Gigabit Ethernet

1. Choose Gigabit Speeds over Fast Ethernet

As the business world evolves, Fast Ethernet is no longer fast enough. Many companies are now facing the ongoing challenge of allocating and scaling bandwidth to support various network devices. Growing businesses need fast access to large amounts of data, so Gigabit Ethernet is developed to transfer data packets at relatively higher speeds (100 times faster than Faster Ethernet), which makes it ideal for ‘bandwidth intensive’ applications like Zoom meeting. Moreover, Gigabit Ethernet is more scalable than Fast Ethernet and is applicable for both residential and commercial uses. In order to meet the bandwidth needs of the Gigabit networks, higher-category cables should be deployed to deliver higher bandwidth and better interference protection. 

2. Future-proof Your Business Network with High Power levels

As smart building starts to support more types of devices, the use of PoE power becomes more critical than ever. To satisfy the need for increased workloads, the newest PoE standard IEEE802.3bt was ratified in 2018 to implement power over four twisted pairs of the Ethernet cable. It is fully backward compatible with the prior PoE standards to work with the legacy network devices. Hi-PoE can be used to support more power-hungry applications including smart buildings and infrastructures like LED lighting, high-power network devices such as POS terminals, RFID readers and digital signage, and high-performance network devices like WiFi 6 access points, PTZ cameras and video conference system, etc. But with the increased power loads comes the increase in cable temperature. When a high-power device is attached to a legacy Ethernet cable, the signal can deteriorate over time. So to future-proof your network, you should use Cat6 cables to reduce resistance and keep power waste to a minimum. 

Best Choice for High-Power Applications

The 10G 95W PoE injector supports 1G/2.5G/5G/10 Gigabit Ethernet network speed, ideal for environments where the highest possible data transfer speed is essential. This PoE injector can handle a diverse range of applications including high-speed security cameras, 802.11ac WAPs, 5G networks, etc. Compliant with the IEEE 802.3bt standard, the 10 Gigabit 95W BT PoE Injector ensures that high-power and data-intensive applications can be handled properly with a seamlessly faster network speed. It can be used in fast-speed surveillance systems like PTZ cameras, remote access controls, etc.

Solution 3: Use WiFi 6 technology for Network Rejuvenation

WiFi 6 promises new changes to every industry, a leap from the Gigabit network to a ‘multi-Gigabit’ network. It expands on the previous generations and guarantees a faster speed and less bandwidth congestion in data networking. But its impacts are more nuanced: it’s a future-proof technology that makes sure your home network never gets out of date or speed a few years down the road. It helps optimize your Internet without sacrificing the network scale and its performance. Apart from simply boosting the speed for individual devices, WiFi 6 can mitigate the issues in network congestion and improve the overall performance of your Internet when a bunch of devices is connected. 

How’s WiFi 6 different from WiFi 5? 

WiFi 6 is an unprecedented upgrade in the wireless network. It brings faster throughput speed and makes sure each connected device maintains its top speed even in a busier network. It won’t necessarily accelerate the network speed, but please rest assured that each unit will be guaranteed to operate at full capacity or ‘near-optimum’. Theoretically, the maximum speed of WiFi can reach 9.6 Gbps to handle a large amount of traffic and deliver faster download and upload speeds, while WiFi 5 can only reach 3.5Gbps. Moreover, WiFi 6 also promises a wider channel width. It can operate freely in both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz ranges to support up to 12 channels in total, eight in the 5Ghz frequency and four in the 2.4Ghz band, while WiFi 5 only sticks to one particular spectrum, i.e. 5Ghz. Normally, the 5Ghz channel allows you to aggregate the 20Mhz channel into 40Mhz and 80Mhz channels when needed, but WiFi 6 opens up a brand new world to the 160Mhz channel. 

How to Set Up a WiFi 6 Network for Your Business? 

Knowing how many areas you need to cover is a good start since the WiFi coverage depends largely on the size of your office. Having a larger space means more access points are needed. The business-grade wireless access points can cover an area up to 450-900 square meters but the real coverage depends largely on your placement. Since wireless signals can be easily impeded by solid obstructions like walls and doors, it’s important to ensure a clear line of sight between the router and access points to minimize interference. The APs should be placed in an open and unobstructed place, like right in the center of an open workspace. If the device supports a PoE connection, then you can power it by a PoE injector where power and data can be transmitted simultaneously via the same network cable. First, connect the router to the LAN port of the PoE injector with an Ethernet cable, plug the device into a nearby power source, and then use another Ethernet cable to connect the WiFi 6 access point to it. 

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