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If a multi-location business is looking for cellular failover connectivity to ensure business continuity in the event of a blackout or brownout of the broadband internet connection, there are quite a few cellular modems out there that would do the basic job. But when looking for a cost-effective solution that is designed specifically for Point-of-Sale (POS) environments, then some important considerations come into play.
Cellular failover provides redundant network connectivity for a business - a life jacket of sorts that keeps the business afloat when the primary wired internet connection is lost or degraded. It works on the same technology (4G/LTE) that a smartphone works on when it is not connected to broadband via Wi-Fi. When the primary connection at a store or branch location fails, the cellular modem takes over, keeping the critical applications at the business up-and-running using a cellular 4G/LTE network.
Most broadband internet blackouts originate at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and are a nightmare scenario at the point-of-sale: the POS system stops working and the location manager is forced to inform customers that they must pay in cash or otherwise he must store-and-forward the payment card transaction (also known as “spooling”). If staff manually wrote down payment card numbers, it would expose the business to liability issues due to non-compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). From there, the only option is to regretfully tell the customers they need to go elsewhere to make their purchases, costing the business revenue and running the risk of angering loyal customers.
Let’s face it: outages happen and a data failure could stop any business in its tracks. In the fast-paced world of specialty retail, quick-service restaurants (QSR), and convenience stores, network reliability is everything. Yet that typical broadband provides 99.5% uptime. While this sounds good, it actually amounts to an average of 22 hours of downtime each year that leads to lost business and potentially the permanent loss of frustrated customers who go over to competitors. Gartner estimates that a single network downtime incident costs an average of $140,000, and retailers, fast-casual restaurants, and convenience stores who rely on a high number of transactions suffer even more.
Not all cellular failover solutions are created equal. When making a selection, consider these five factors:
Universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE) routers from some SD-Branch solutions such as Netsurion BranchSDO offer SD-WAN, embedded security, Wi-Fi, and integrated cellular modem. Some come with a single SIM while others offer dual-carrier capability with a dual SIM. Some come with included LTE antennas while also offering external antennas such as wall-mounted antennas, and even roof-mounted antennas. At the end of the day, the imperative is to avoid having to pay for and connect yet another device like an external cellular modem to the router.
Automated failover and fallback is a must, which means instant flip from WAN to LTE and LTE to WAN without manual intervention. While a temporary power outage may be a different story, i.e. causing POS systems to reboot, a blackout of the broadband connection should go unnoticed to the customers and employees at the store. Furthermore, automation prevents delays and human error. IT agility is the key here.
The integrated LTE modem functions must be able to be remotely managed even when the WAN is down. Cloud management is key to an effective and agile failover solution as it reduces the need for help desk support calls and truck rolls. It boosts IT agility and helps reduce operational costs.
Monitoring failover cellular usage in real-time with up/down alerts and usage threshold alerts can help keep costs down. Look for solutions that offer a single pane of glass that deliver the visibility and control of LTE usage across all the locations being monitored.
Watch out for extra fees associated with technical support, software updates and hardware fixes. It is always best to look for a vendor or Managed Network Service Provider (MNSP) that is easy to do business with. Consider solutions with consolidated billing capabilities and excellent support. Receiving bills for every single location in a network makes accounting tough, and a consolidated account statement that includes the details for all locations may help simplify and speed up processing.
Multi-location business, especially POS environments, should consider reducing complexity and consolidating network functions via an SD-Branch solution such as Netsurion BranchSDO. This solution includes security features such as firewall, internal vulnerability scans (IVS), advanced deep packet inspection (DPI), and PCI DSS support along with the SD-WAN features, integrated Wi-Fi and orchestrated cellular failover. Although a stand-alone cellular failover solution would do the basic job of delivering business continuity, the key is not what the solution does but how it does it. A solution that requires an external modem, yet another piece of hardware, and manual operation, yet another point of failure, should be avoided.
Notice that we’re not talking about 5G networks just yet and it is not a consideration for the next two years. The promise of 5G should start materializing during 2020 and it should boost cellular bandwidth, reduce cellular traffic congestion, increase transfer speeds and reduce latency. Provided that indoor signal strength is solved via boosters or other solutions, 5G could become a serious contender as the main link to the internet for certain types of POS environments. If cellular performance will compete with landlines, then the main factor to consider will be the connectivity cost.
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of an SD-Branch solution for POS environments, we recommend you read the whitepaper titled “Retail Networks Under Stress: When Digital Transformation Equals Digital Disruption”.
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