How 4G SIM Cards are Used to Set Up a Wide Area Network

Thomas Wellburn
June 28, 2017

4G WAN is the latest network craze which allows businesses to set up a short-term network anywhere using the fastest cellular speeds.

In the past, the task of setting up a wide area network (WAN) would have come with a lengthy timescale. Network carriers or IT might have hindered your company moving on a new project, event or business expansion, potentially causing long delays. Then, along comes 4G WAN – a quick, reliable and user-friendly way of establishing a short-term network virtually anywhere – all in a neat box. The subject is quite big, so we’ve broken it down for you.

What is 4G WAN?

A 4G WAN uses mobile data to create a high-speed network. This is achieved by using multiple 4G capable SIM cards in a specialised router. Ordinarily, these SIM cards would be from a mix of carriers – the router technology ‘bonds’ the SIMs together to create a single data connection.

That connection can link, via the internet, to your company network – creating an additional fully-connected site in a fraction of the traditional circuit lead time.

Different SIMs and carriers are used to ensure your data does not congest one provider’s network. The use of multi-carriers also means that you’re not exposed to the possibility of reduced speed or network loss should any one provider have technical issues.

Bonding vs. load balancing

Where bonding creates one connection, ‘load balancing’ can be used across your 4G WAN to distribute traffic across a number of individual connections. As a result, you do not need a specialist hub at your data centre to interpret the information that is transmitted.

Most providers will suggest ‘bonding’ multiple SIMs to create one connection to your network – this offers increased reliability, as any lost data packets can be immediately retransmitted if one channel experiences an issue. However, load balancing is an option when you’re primarily accessing internet based applications that don’t require high speed access and aren’t sensitive to lost data packets.

Being aware of latency

Latency is the time it takes for a packet of data to be transmitted and returned from a destination on a network. Networks calibrate their speed based on the time it takes to perform this task – so keeping latency to a minimum is important to the overall network performance.

Latency over a 4G WAN is greater than that of a network that relies on wired ethernet connections – as such, it’s important to be aware of applications that are sensitive to the increased latency. While most applications deliver flawless end-user experience even with lost packets, some real-time applications can suffer.

How is it set up?

Although installation varies based on need, a standard bonded set up would look like this:

  • Installation of a hub router at your business/data centre – this is what bonds the traffic from the various SIMs at your sites
  • A business grade 4G router is installed at your desired ‘satellite’ site
  • Multiple SIMs are installed in the 4G router (ideally sourced by a managed provider to reduce logistics)
  • Set up of a secure tunnel connection to your network
  • A monitoring system ordinarily accompanies a 4G installation to assess network performance

In many cases, 4G WAN is being used because speed is of the essence. For that reason, drawing on the experience of a managed network provider like SAS Global Communications means your company removes any unforeseen technical installation hold-ups.

Where is 4G WAN useful?

Although every organisation’s requirements differ, 4G WAN is generally used when one of the following scenarios presents:

Mobile deployment – If you have an engineer or employee working from a vehicle it can be helpful to have that vehicle integrated into your network. 4G WAN means there is little or no difference between deployment of WAN into a car, van, boat or rail installation – compared to that of a fixed address location.

Temporary business location – If your business operates from client or temporary locations, being able to deploy quick 4G WAN can be the difference between winning the business or not. Are you a construction firm? Exhibitor or expo organiser? Do you facilitate festivals? If you’re only going to be on location for a short period of time, the lead times associated with traditional network set ups can make logistics entirely unfeasible.

Difficult business locations – There are instances when companies need to access locations that are virtually impossible for traditional providers to access. 4G WAN set ups are proving invaluable in mining, exploration, construction and maritime organisations. This is especially the case when networked security devices are important.

Lengthy circuit installations – If you’re setting up a new location, time can be of the essence – even if you’re planning on being in that bricks-and-mortar location for a long time. Setting any business commencement date can be dangerous when you’re dealing with the often-moving timescales associated with a hard-wired installation – especially when you have to factor in physical environment adjustments and construction. Many companies choose a short-term 4G WAN solution to ensure a new location is opened on their timescales – not those set by a carrier.

Backup circuits and disaster recovery – If a business uses cloud based applications and storage, having a 4G WAN disaster recovery set-up can be the difference between continuing to operate or otherwise. There are some options depending on business requirements:

  • Having a ready-to-deploy 4G WAN system that can be brought online in the case of main network failure
  • Having a 4G WAN system that runs alongside current network infrastructure to provide instantaneous failover in the case of network failure
  • An off-site ready-to-deploy system that can pre-configured then delivered at short-notice in the case of disaster

Do you require 4G WAN?

If you recognise your business model in any of the above situations the answer could be ‘yes’. Importantly, you can ask company-wide questions that relate to network use:

  • Have you, or do you experience issues with circuit installation that impact your timescales?
  • Have you come up against large construction charges when attempting to install circuits?
  • Could your business or potential customers benefit from quick onsite installations?
  • Would your field based employees benefit from increased efficiency off-site working?
  • Do you ever find your business moving quicker than carrier can install circuits?

Again, if the answer to any of these questions is yes, look to begin by discussing your requirements with an experienced managed provider who’ll work to understand how your business can make the most of 4G WAN.

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