Wireless Network Design has become an increasingly complex discipline in just the last 3-4 years. For most of the 21st century, an enterprise wireless network simply meant Wi-Fi connected to a wired Ethernet network. However, today’s IT personnel are faced with an incredibly complex wireless environment - private LTE, private 5G, Matter, LoRa, Bluetooth LE, WWAN, and the many competing faces of Wi-Fi (6, 6E, 7) are making incredible new use cases possible. However, it’s left to IT to determine how these different technologies can interact, integrate, complement, and even augment one another.
Challenges to designing wireless networks
Even when you know which wireless technologies you wish to employ, building a new wireless network, particularly a private network, comes with unique challenges. For example, navigating multiple tools for each wireless technology is an expensive and kludgy approach. It can also be challenging to collaborate across internal teams, with customers and external project stakeholders. If your project has multiple sites, there is often no centralized place to view, access, and share information across many sites and teams. This lack of control or insight often hinders you from making the best decisions for your company.
The result of all these challenges is an increasing need for more complex network design to ensure these protocols work together successfully. A new generation of wireless network design strategies and technologies are now available to help. Let’s start with an overview of the issues you need to consider when building an enterprise network today.
Select the right network for the job
Deciding which technology to use and where to use it is particularly critical. As described, IT today has myriad choices at its disposal in terms of wireless solutions. So, understanding your use case (or cases) and what you need to accomplish is critical. What do you use to support your more mission-critical applications where you need security and reliability? What technologies do you use for your more non-mission-critical apps? Where do you use Wi-Fi vs. LTE vs. 5G?
Do you need better coverage and/or range over a large outdoor campus? A private LTE may be ideal and cost-effective. Is there a need to ensure broad compatibility with a diverse set of devices? Wi-Fi would be your friend in this scenario. Need reliability for mission-critical apps? Go with a private network to ensure more security and guaranteed reliability. You would probably lean towards a private 5G network, but maybe Wi-Fi would do as well. The point is that your use case will drive your selection of wireless technologies (as well as potentially a combination of these technologies).
Understand how you’ll manage the wireless network
When you are using a multitude of different technologies, the network will invariably be more complex to support and manage. Not only will you require different tools, but potentially different skill sets on your team. If you look at the typical IT team of an enterprise, they probably know Wi-Fi well, but maybe not LTE or cellular tech. 5G is certainly something that is new for almost everyone. Getting them the training and solutions needed to manage new technology can be one of your most critical building blocks to making your new network successful.
Creating an easy-to-manage network starts in the design phase, with solid survey data as a foundation. This phase is where you will understand the physical characteristics that will impact your network’s performance and what technologies will be needed where. Likewise, from a network management perspective, Wi-Fi management consoles are quite mature, but private 5G and others are new to the market. Getting an understanding of how robust these new solutions are will be crucial. There are even new independent management consoles that promise a “single pane of glass” to manage all aspects of your multi-technology wireless network, but their efficacy remains to be seen. Move forward carefully.
What wireless network design tools do you have?
The challenge of planning and designing this next generation of wireless networks means you may require next-generation survey and design solutions. While there are “tried and true” solutions available, there is a new generation of multiple tools that combine the ability to survey, plan and design those networks.
Regardless of your tools, core to your success is to make the survey part of the overall design process. A great survey will enable you to understand the physical requirements and what type of technology may be best suited to deploy for the greatest results. This includes obtaining a facility diagram but also making a detailed onsite physical assessment. This onsite survey will enable you to assess existing network infrastructure, identify coverage areas, etc.
A quality survey and design tool should enable you to model this environment in 3D and even give you some predictive performance. These solutions can model network components and use algorithms to view what the respective signal strength of a specific wireless technology may be in that location. By accurately simulating the performance of the network, you will be able to optimize the design and be confident the network you’re designing is the network you need.
By using software to accurately predict the network, you will then be able to easily make changes in the network parameters and site configurations, such as antenna placement and/or height, testing extra available towers, etc. That’s going to save you a ton of time and enable you to understand which wireless technology will work best in a given location.
Regardless of your approach, it’s clear that the future of enterprise wireless is going to include myriad wireless technologies working in concert. Even as we, as an industry, work to normalize joint Wi-Fi and cellular networks, Wi-Fi 7 and soon 6G are coming to bring new capabilities - and new complexities - for all of us to manage. Taking the time to understand the process of surveying, designing, and building your own complex wireless network now will only prepare you and your team for the inevitable future.
Jalal Berrahou is the Director of Market Development, EMEA/APAC at iBwave.