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Top Strains On Your Wireless Network

  • Deploying and maintaining a fast and reliable wireless LAN is becoming increasingly important for most enterprises. The WLAN has quickly taken over wired connections as the dominant end-device connection method, largely due to trends such as BYOD. And with the Internet of Things (IoT) movement looming, the number of WiFi-enabled devices connecting to your WLAN is expected to explode. This is leading many to wonder how far their wireless LAN will take them before needing an upgrade? And what is likely to cause the greatest amount of strain on the WLAN?

    In this slideshow, we'll outline seven sources of pressure on your wireless network today or potentially in the future. And while some of the problems can only be resolved through capital expenditures on hardware/software upgrades, others can be handled with company policy changes and proper maintenance. In the end, you should come away with some ideas on what to look out for, and how to resolve WLAN performance issues so they don't severely impact your end users.

    Generally, the age of your WLAN will impact how much it's impacted by the strains we list on the following pages. Older WLANs were designed with coverage in mind, not capacity. To reduce implementation costs, each wireless access point was deployed in such a way as to cover as many square feet as possible. But as more and more laptops, smartphones, and tablets started showing up in offices, traditional WLAN architectures were at risk of succumbing to overcapacity. Newer architectures were designed for coverage and capacity in mind, allowing for connectivity of more densely populated WiFi areas.

    But even WLANs that are just a few years old are struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing number of devices that are showing up. So if you have a fairly new WLAN, and still have to deal with capacity issues, you are not alone.

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  • Non-business use of WiFi

    Watching an hour of Netflix requires a download stream of around 1 GB per hour. If this is done on the office WLAN by multiple employees,  it chews up a huge chunk of bandwidth on your network that can’t be used for business purposes. It’s not just Netflix that uses large amounts of bandwidth; think about all the bandwidth consumed on YouTube, streaming radio and social networking sites. Policies should be put in place to either limit or  completely block bandwidth for popular non-business websites and apps.

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  • Wireless spectrum interference

    Using unlicensed 2.4 and 5 GHz wireless spectrum for WiFi is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it offers a low-cost and easy-to-deploy solution. The downside is that administrators must have to constantly be vigilant about wireless interference. This includes interference from Bluetooth keyboards/mice, microwaves, poorly shielded electrical cabling, and your neighbor’s WLAN. As more and more products become wireless capable, interference increases.

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  • Network backups and online storage

    Business have finally gotten serious about backing up data from laptops and other end user devices onto a network or online cloud storage. But at the same time, if the devices are wirelessly connected, all this backup can consume a massive amount of bandwidth on the WLAN. Restricting backups to run on non-peak hours is a great start. But an even better solution is to train employees to plug into a wired Ethernet connection whenever possible. This short and sweet bit of user training can go a long way to conserving precious WiFi bandwidth.

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  • Physical obstructions

    Even small, seemingly cosmetic physical changes to a building can cause significant alterations to a wireless signal. Materials such as drywall and plywood are usually not a problem. But when you start bringing in thicker materials like brick, concrete or steel, your WLAN coverage in parts of a building can be impacted to the point where you begin seeing dead spots. That’s why it’s critically important to perform regularly scheduled wireless site surveys to insure proper WLAN coverage.

    (Image: StockSnap/Pixabay)

  • Device capacity

    Capacity is likely the No. 1 driver for opting to upgrade a WLAN to the latest generation of equipment. Older APs would buckle under the pressure of even a few dozen wireless devices that were connected. Nowadays, high-density WLAN architectures can handle several hundred devices on a single AP at any given moment and properly manage bandwidth so each user has equal-opportunity access.

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  • Internet of Things

    Beyond BYOD's impact on WLAN usage, we have to begin taking a close look at how much more impact a wireless Internet of Things project might have on your WLAN. Many are under the assumption that while the number of devices is certainly expected to increase due to IoT, the amount of bandwidth each IoT device will consume is relatively low. I would caution against this thinking. In fact, many IoT solutions are going to leverage heavy use of streaming audio and video, which can chew up huge chunks of bandwidth.

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  • Backhaul traffic

    One source of strain on your WLAN may not be wireless at all. Many WLAN designs backhaul all WLAN traffic back to a centralized controller, which then distributes it onto the LAN. If not properly monitored, the backhaul Ethernet link(s) will end up becoming the bottleneck for all wireless traffic.

    (Image: blickpixel/Pixabay)