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7 Keys To Better Enterprise WiFi

  • Managing a poorly designed and maintained wireless WLAN is a frustrating and time-consuming task. Employees get irritated, work processes suffer, and there’s an overall sense of dissatisfaction company-wide when WiFi performance is poor. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Enterprise-class wireless hardware and software has the ability to perform as advertised as long as you follow some best practice guidelines.

    In this slideshow, we’re going to look at seven keys to building a WiFi network that will be a joy to use and manage. At a high level, there are two broad categories that the keys fall under. The first is choosing the right equipment. The second category deals with the proper design and upkeep based on business need and the airspace landscape.

    As you read through the slides, keep in mind that enterprise WLANs are vastly different in their design, implementation and optimization compared to wired equipment. Because data is transmitted over radio waves, the network must be regularly monitored for any physical changes, network congestion, and newly introduced interference that can significantly impact performance.

    Most enterprise-capable WLAN architectures offer built-in intelligence to help mitigate any changes to the airspace by automatically changing channel frequency and transmit power settings. While this helps, it only gets you so far. If you truly want to squeeze the most performance out of a WLAN, administrators have to dig a bit deeper. Putting in the extra time and effort to properly understand exactly how a wireless access point (AP) operates in a particular environment is what makes the difference between an average and excellent performing WLAN.

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  • Resist the urge to go cheap

    When it comes to the speed and reliability of WiFi hardware, there is a dramatic difference comparing consumer- and enterprise-grade WiFi solutions. Even though enterprise WiFi equipment is significantly more expensive, it’s going to perform much better and require far less time on maintenance.

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  • Design for both coverage and density

    It used to be that enterprise wireless networks were designed with the singular goal of providing wall-to-wall coverage. While this is still a critical goal, wireless device density is also a crucial design concern. A single AP can only handle so many connected devices at one time. Thanks to BYOD and widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets, your average employee usually connects to a wireless network with multiple devices. Add to this the Internet of Things (IoT) movement, which will add considerably to the overall wireless density, and you begin to realize just how important capacity becomes. So what ends up happening is that wireless networks are deployed with far more APs than in the past.

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  • Perform regular wireless site surveys

    If you’re in the habit of deploying WiFi access points in random locations throughout a building, your overall performance and wireless experience will suffer. Wireless site surveys give you much needed visibility in terms of signal strength, obstructions interference, and overlapping signals. Site surveys should also be repeated on a regular basis (every six to 12 months) to ensure the environment hasn’t changed.

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  • Choose your antenna wisely

    From traditional omni-directional antennas to directional yagi, parabolic or dish antennas, you have plenty of options depending on your needs and the physical environment in which you are deploying the WiFi network. Also, keep in mind that enterprise-class APs with built-in antennas are largely designed to operate in traditional office settings with only minor obstructions such as cubicles, drop ceilings and drywall. If you are deploying a wireless network in non-traditional spaces such as warehouses, hospitals or in outdoor settings, your antenna choices will need to be adjusted to optimally operate in that particular environment.

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  • Identify and eliminate potential bottlenecks

    Bottlenecks in a wireless network can happen at several critical points. Most of the time, bottlenecks happen at the AP itself or in the uplink from the AP to the switch. The other bottleneck occurs when a controller-based WiFi architecture backhauls all wireless traffic to a centralized location through a secure tunnel. It’s fairly common for this backhaul traffic to experience a bottleneck at the aggregation point if not closely monitored.

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  • Know your apps

    It’s not sufficient to simply know the number of connected devices and how much bandwidth is consumed; you also need a sound understanding of the applications running over the WLAN. Whether you’re running voice/video and other time-sensitive and critical applications, these need to be identified and insulated from non-critical application data by implementing QoS policies on the wireless network.

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  • Wireless hardware refresh

    Combine the increasingly rapid advancements in 802.11 technologies with the ever-growing need for fast, reliable and secure wireless connectivity and you have plenty of rational to consider refreshing your WLAN more frequently than the rest of your network. WLANs that were deployed with 802.11n technology just a few years ago are already beginning to underperform in many enterprise networks.

    (Image: OpenClipartvectors/Pixabay)