Most people today connect to the Internet through a high-speed or broadband connection. Everyone from regular consumers to large enterprises is using broadband to transmit information and data. According to Cisco, by 2023, nearly two-thirds of the global population will have Internet access, 29.3 billion devices will be connected to IP networks, and machine-to-machine (M2M) connections will grow by 34% to 14.7 billion.
With each new IoT device, VOIP line, and video conferencing that’s added to the network, there is increased potential for performance issues, increased lag times for users, and impacts to an organisation’s bottom line. Network engineers will face many challenges as they manage and support a broadband network. With the right strategy, tools, and skills, they can deploy and maintain a high-performing broadband network that serves everyone in the organisation efficiently and effectively.
The Basics: What Is a Broadband Network?
Past the surface level of high-speed Internet access lies the broadband network. Through a series of interconnected hardware and software, the broadband network supports the increased communication needs of every company, brand, and person around the world.
Broadband networks use high-capacity transmission technologies used to transmit data, voice, and video across long distances and at high speeds. It’s called “broadband” because it transmits data across a wide band of frequencies, often concurrently, allowing more information to be transmitted at the same time.
That’s how broadband can integrate multiple analogue and digital services such as voice, video, and data across the same IT infrastructure. End-users may only see their modems, wi-fi management software, and routers. At the same time, network engineers deal with the cables, switches, gateways, and mobile technology that manage and transmit the signals from end-to-end.
What is Broadband Network Management?
Today’s communication infrastructure is made up of networks within networks. There’s the local area network (LAN), the wireless LAN (WLAN), wide area network (WAN), storage area network (SAN), virtual private network (VPN), and more. Most handle data traffic for a specific function or geographic area handled by the network, like storage devices, servers, computers, routers, and more.
For example, LANs typically handle traffic for computers and low-voltage devices across a short distance like a single office location. A WLAN uses wireless technology to do the same thing but doesn’t require physical connections to the network. IoT devices may be part of a WLAN locally and are connected to their home base through a WAN via the Internet.
Each of these network types has different requirements to function, be updated, and generally supported by network engineers and IT professionals. Given the number of networks and devices a single organisation may have and the business priority for each, many organisations are turning to broadband network management solutions to help.
More information on managed network services can be found in this buyer’s guide.
Why You Need a Broadband Network Manager
A network management system (NMS) is an application or set of applications that lets network engineers manage a network’s independent components within a bigger network framework. It identifies, configures, updates, and troubleshoots all connected network devices in an enterprise network, including both wired and wireless devices. An NMS that manages a broadband network is typically referred to as a BNMS.
Many broadband network devices are housed off-site, in the cloud, or are generally out of the physical reach of IT staff, making them a challenge to monitor and support. NMS apps like Dynatrace, SolarWinds, and LogicMonitor can be used by in-house IT network employees or as part of a remote managed network service. A broadband network management solution offers a way to centralise all the information about your broadband network and make managing it more efficient.
How Broadband Network Management Helps
Along with network management efficiencies, a broadband network management solution can offer technical, business, and productivity benefits for an organisation. Many BNMS solutions offer default and customised reporting to help IT professionals plan a network strategy. These reports can be used to forecast growth, track device performance and lifespan, and more. The real-time monitoring and alerting features help identify weaknesses in the broadband network before they become an issue. IT teams can take preventative measures and ensure continuous uptime for the network.
The automated bandwidth management features of a BNMS can help shape network traffic to take advantage of usage patterns and device availability. As the number of machine-to-machine connections is forecast to make up at least half of all globally connected devices online in 2023, automation will be one of the few ways broadband network management can be done at the speed and volume these devices demand.
Bandwidth management features are another way for organizations to prevent usage-based service overages and keep costs in check since a BNMS allows for granular bandwidth optimisation control of traffic. Traffic can be prioritised based on custom rules created for individual services, devices, usage, and organizational needs.
Keeping track of assets in a broadband network can be a challenge since many of the devices are in remote locations from the IT team. A BNMS makes it easy to track and monitor all the devices, so IT staff know what’s out there. A broadband network can easily be scaled up or down based on usage, organisation size, and budget because staff have a complete understanding of the network, its capacity, usage, and more. IT leaders will be able to expand business capabilities comfortably because they know their network can take the increased use.
Broadband Network Security
Securing a broadband network is a high-priority task for any organisation today. Each end-point device in a broadband network risks being a potential entry point for hackers and criminals. IT professionals can secure them through network segmentation that classifies network traffic based on a set of security policies created around the identity of each device, rather than IP address (since IP addresses can be hijacked or spoofed by hackers.) Further, role-based access controls should be implemented to keep out potential attackers, block non-compliant end-point devices, and enforce security in real-time.
Combining the security features with automated reporting in a BNMS solution can help IT professionals create a baseline for standard or regular traffic patterns. Behavioural analytic tools in a BNMS solution can identify any activity that deviates from regular patterns and alert the appropriate stakeholders. It’s essential to understand if a spike in traffic from a single device is from genuine user demand or an attempted security intrusion.
Even with all these benefits, there are negative impacts of broadband network management that can affect all aspects of an organisation.
The Drawbacks of Broadband Network Management
To start, a BNMS can lead to the same bandwidth throttling that many consumer Internet Service Providers (ISPs) do, negatively impacting overall network performance. Employee productivity suffers, and by extension, the organisation’s bottom line. Network engineers should be mindful of any automated bandwidth management to ensure it doesn’t throttle traffic unnecessarily.
At the same time, automated security or behavioural analytics tools should be monitored closely by IT staff to ensure they’re not blocking legitimate traffic or usage. Investigating and remediating false alarms can lead to increased broadband network resource costs, but more importantly, lead to a delayed response to true incidents that are written off initially as a “false positive.”
Thirdly, the explosion in the Internet of Things (IoT) can make broadband network management challenging by the sheer number of devices being added every day. Nearly 6 billion devices will come online this year alone, according to Gartner. Network and IT professionals will struggle to deal with them all, especially when it comes to documenting strategies on how to support, integrate, and secure them on the network.
Finally, the increased use of cloud computing, content delivery networks (CDNs), and other peer-to-peer (P2P) applications pose a special challenge to broadband networks. While this distributed form of data transmission can speed up the overall performance of an application or system, they must be managed appropriately, or else they could significantly impact the broadband network.
For example, on unmanaged networks, P2P users can account for anywhere from 65% to 95% of network traffic. By itself, that traffic can be managed by a BNMS adequately. However, the multiple TCP flows per file transfer P2P apps use can circumvent the BNMS’ bandwidth allocation rules at the expense of other applications. The rest of the broadband network can suffer significant performance issues as a result.
Modern Network Solutions for a Modern Word
As the number of Internet-connected devices grows at a breakneck speed, broadband networks must evolve to keep pace. 5G, edge computing, and satellite connectivity are just a few of the new technologies that will disrupt the landscape soon. Network engineers and IT professionals will continually be tasked with keeping the world online in an ever-evolving broadband environment. Broadband network management solutions will play a major role in how that’s done and may be the only way to do it efficiently.