5 Enterprise WiFi Pitfalls to Avoid

Don't make these mistakes in your WLAN deployment.

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In many enterprise environments, WiFi has successfully replaced wired Ethernet as the primary mode of end-user connectivity. Consequently, it’s critical that network administrators deploy and manage a wireless LAN that is reliable, secure and speedy. Yet we see the same mistakes made repeatedly on WLANs, which cause performance and data security issues for users. Let's look at the top five WiFi pitfalls that you should avoid at all costs.

1. Deployment based on coverage, not capacity

When planning to a new wireless network, it’s easy to fall into the trap of deploying access points based on the maximum distance a single access point can cover. This design method fails to account for the number of users each individual AP might be expected to service at any given moment. Conference halls, meeting rooms and public areas are all locations where additional APs may be required to handle the traffic load. Designing a WLAN that accounts for both coverage and capacity is an important consideration.

2. Weak authentication

Some network administrators fall into the trap of simply issuing a pre-shared key for employee access to the corporate network. Because this password is shared by all employees, it opens the door for abuse, including:

  • Authorized users can easily share the pre-shared key with unauthorized users

  • If the key is not changed regularly, former employees still have access to company resources

  • All users are granted the same access permissions

A more secure method, would be to authenticate on a user-by-user basis using the IEEE 802.1X standard, which allows for the unique identification of each user. By authenticating each user, you not only have the ability to monitor and control network access at a granular level, you can also leverage best-practice password complexity and update frequency policies.

3. Not performing regular WiFi site surveys

Because WiFi relies on the use of unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4 and 5 GHz ranges, even the smallest change to the frequency landscape can have a major impact on operability. Things such as physical obstructions, external wireless interference, and competing wireless devices can all contribute to the degradation of a wireless LAN. In wireless deployments that are critical in nature, it’s wise to perform a thorough WiFi site survey on a regular basis. Then based on the results of the survey, administrators can make the necessary adjustments to counteract any changes in the spectrum.



4. Choosing the wrong antenna array

It’s become common practice for enterprise-class WiFi vendors to offer APs that use a built-in antenna array. While these APs help streamline hardware and tidy up the aesthetics of a deployment in traditional office environments, keep in mind that they aren’t meant for every type of environment. For example, in warehouse or manufacturing settings where ceilings are higher, and the number of physical obstructions is far greater, it’s wise to deploy APs that utilize external antenna arrays. That allows the network administrator to attach various antenna types – such as yagi, directional, omni-directional or parabolic -- that operate best in that particular environment.

5. Lack of a uniform wireless architecture

Today’s WLAN architectures operate as a single, controller-based solution that provides centralized intelligence to make changes to radio strength and channel operation of any given AP. Because of this centralized intelligence, it’s best not to use multiple vendors to provide WiFi coverage at a single location. Using separate controllers in one location can cause the following problems:

  • Unnecessary interference caused by competing solutions

  • Complicated user handoffs from one AP to the next

  • Authentication problems when users bounce between differently managed WLANs

A far more streamlined solution would be to choose a single vender per location and provide a uniform network from end to end.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Froehlich, President, West Gate Networks

President, West Gate Networks

As a highly experienced network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, particularly in the United States and Southeast Asia, Andrew Froehlich has nearly two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Froehlich has participated in the design and maintenance of networks for State Farm Insurance, United Airlines, Chicago-area schools and the University of Chicago Medical Center. He is the founder and president of Loveland, Colo.-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build outs. The author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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