Build WiFi To Weather The IoT Onslaught

The Internet of Things is coming. The four strategies here can help enterprises future-proof their wireless networks to support the looming demands.

Dirk Gates

May 28, 2015

4 Min Read
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By 2020, nearly 26 billion wireless devices will be connected to the Internet, according to Gartner. 2013 heralded the arrival of the Internet of Things, and IoT needs a strong WiFi backbone to thrive. Without a reliable wireless connection, even the smartest, most sophisticated devices won't deliver on what they promise.

One thing is certain: Today's enterprise WiFi infrastructure was not designed to handle the traffic created by existing devices and apps, let alone the exponential traffic increase that is close on the horizon. Organizations need to consider looming impacts on WiFi traffic overloads, including those caused by new device standards, IoT, and bandwidth-sucking applications like streaming voice, video and cloud backups. 

The considerations that follow will prepare you to build a WiFi network that can manage growing demands for capacity, bandwidth and security. These needs are part and parcel of the current IoT landscape, and will be even more critical to the IoT explosion that is rapidly approaching.

Design your network to scale

The day isn't far off when wearables and IoT devices (such as smart outlets, health sensors and web-enabled lighting) may start to outnumber their traditional counterparts (like laptops, smartphones and tablets).

To anticipate this shift, organizations must ensure that their WiFi networks can scale to meet the needs of this profusion of connected devices. With more and more of these IoT devices coming online, network architects will have to prepare for increased capacity and update their designs accordingly.

As enterprises adopt and transition towards the 802.11ac WiFi standard, network administrators should begin planning a move to 5GHz, which ultimately will replace the 2.4GHz band altogether. An upgrade to a faster 11ac infrastructure might seem like the obvious choice. But if that option isn't in the cards right away, make sure you at least have full 5GHz coverage across your environment.

With faster speeds, an increase in channels, greater capacity and far less interference, WiFi in 5GHz will provide your users with a superior experience compared to the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum. What's more, adopting application visibility and control for your wireless system will ensure that business-critical apps get priority over social media, games, streaming video and other recreational traffic common to smartphones.

Create smart policies for traffic

Many IoT devices sync automatically with apps like iCloud, Box and Dropbox. This produces a tremendous amount of background noise, or tax, on the networks that support them. With the IoT continuing its march into the enterprise, architects will have to monitor and scale the network on an ongoing basis. How? By forming intelligent network policies that de-prioritize syncing background traffic while moving mission-critical apps to the very front of the line.

Build strong authentication

When traditional devices enter a WiFi network, all devices are authenticated, and all data traffic is encrypted. But most IoT devices don't authenticate in the network nor enable encryption by default, having not been created with security needs in mind.

This leaves IT departments with little visibility into data security and privacy. In the worst-case scenario, an entire network could be compromised from hackers or other threats. Weak points include physical facility risks (security devices, locks and alarms); environmental dangers (HVAC and fire controls); and more.

As a result, enterprises will be compelled to introduce stronger privacy policies and adopt new best practices for security. The end goal is to guarantee that all IoT devices send data to the correct network resources -- a process that greatly enhances security.

Limit the number of IoT devices per AP

WiFi standards have evolved to support the growing amount of devices that connect to corporate networks. As the Internet of Things expands through the rollout of new inventions, corporate policies need to be enacted to minimize demand from IoT devices. A good rule of thumb is to cap the number of devices connecting to an access point at 20 or fewer. This reduces ongoing activity and subsequent strain on the network.

Thankfully, the move to 11ac will help maximize performance and eliminate the need to replace network cabling. This transition will make your plan for network design and AP placement not only more cost-efficient, but also easier to implement.

Of course, it's still unclear how the IoT market will evolve. But one conclusion is undeniable -- IoT and WiFi are bound to go hand in hand. For a truly seamless adoption to take place, IoT devices require scalable network technologies that can handle increased data and traffic. By future-proofing their networks with dynamic solutions, enterprises will be well equipped to handle every step of the 2.5-to-5GHz transition -- from a mix of old and new devices, to the coming wave of 11ac devices that promise to flood our networks.

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