GCI partners with Aruba Networks on wireless management

General Communications Inc. customers can let someone else worry about the complicated mechanics of running an in-house wireless network.

GCI has partnered with Aruba Networks, a Hewlett-Packard-owned wireless network management company, to provide a package service to businesses, hospitals and schools that would remotely manage wireless networks.

Wireless networks take an immense amount of upkeep, and balancing maintenance with the pace of technology can be prohibitive. Businesses rely more and more on company wireless systems to hold video conferences, share information, and educate employees or students, and old networks grow outdated in short order.

Normally, companies with wireless networks use in-house tech staff for daily management and system updates.

GCI’s wireless network provisions are extensive in Alaska. Justin Burgess, GCI’s director of strategic initiatives, said the partnership was inevitable.

“GCI has been installing WiFi infrastructure for along time,” he said. “The way they’re typically procured is a hardware purchase along with professional services and in-house expertise. At some point, you have a problem and something needs to be replaced.”

Aruba operates ClearPass, a platform that can connect to any given WiFi network and roll its management in a single platform. GCI engineers can then remotely manage all the tasks associated with that network.

Because companies are able to disband in-house tech monitoring staff, there could be cost savings attached, but Burgess said the true benefit is operational rather than fiscal.

“We’ve taken the entire life cycle of ownership of a WiFi service, installation, access points, management monitoring of the WiFi structure 24/7, configuration of access points, and the lifecycle replacement of the hardware, we’ve taken that entire bundle of services into a monthly fee,” Burgess said. “It takes the entire headache of having a wireless network and lets someone else deal with it.”

According to Burgess, GCI has hired upward of 15 new managers and engineers to handle WiFi networks for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest GCI customers.

Among other businesses, GCI Senior Director of Products John Barnhardt said rural businesses would benefit most from managed WiFi. Like educators and healthcare professions, maintaining high-end tech talent is difficult in rural Alaska, GCI’s strategy, in fact, is to target education and healthcare in rural Alaska for this service.

“It’s a huge challenge on the education side,” said Barnhardt. “Superintendents and (chief institutional officers’) number one and two concerns are readiness for online assessment and security and privacy. It’s a costly endeavor. It requires constant recertification. In schools, density of coverage is a huge issue.”

Online assessment in particular can present unanticipated challenges. A given classroom may have enough bandwidth for 10 personal computers, but spike in demand when 30 or 40 students have to take online academic assessments. Aruba’s system will allow GCI techs to temporarily alter the school’s WiFi configurations to allow more network space to that particular area.

“Aruba has very robust technology to deal with this,” said Barnhardt. “We can come in, put in an infrastructure that can support that traffic segmentation in hospitals, in conference rooms…those types of capabilities are now starting to be what businesses expect out of their WiFi.”

This kind of network flexibility is important in industries where frequent conferences take up unexpected amounts of bandwidth. Telehealth, or telemedicine, administers medical care remotely through Internet or traditional telephone connections.

Through video and digitally enabled biomedical readings, physicians and nurses in one area are able to provide primary, urgent, psychiatric, and even intensive care to rural patients without needing expensive transit for themselves or the patient.

Both GCI and Alaska Communications provide infrastructure for rural healthcare facilities to engage in telehealth. GCI’s TERRA network directly benefits the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and Alaska Federal Health Care Access Network for telehealth connectivity. Barnhardt said one of GCI’s existing medical customers was going to have to replace its infrastructure to allow for telehealth video diagnosis, but now has the option for GCI to accommodate increased network needs without an upgrade.

DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.summers@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
09/08/2016 - 10:20pm

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