Updating an enterprise WLAN to meet today's business needs is complicated. Follow these guidelines to make sure your wireless network provides reliable and secure connectivity.
If you're looking to upgrade your current WLAN, you may be under the false impression that it's just a matter of swapping out old hardware with new. In reality, there’s a great deal more to it. This is especially true if your users demand enterprise-grade speed and reliability.
If you’re long overdue for an update to your wireless infrastructure, it's safe to say that requirements from the past will be vastly different from what's needed today. WiFi in the enterprise has become a trusted connectivity method and users demand solid coverage and ample throughput. Additionally, the sheer number of mobile devices – many of which will connect to a WLAN – is expected to increase substantially for years to come. Moreover, you should become familiar with the latest WiFi technologies before planning your new WLAN.
It all comes down to the fact that a WiFi networking upgrade in 2018 is far more than just a simple "rip and replace." You need to carefully identify key weaknesses in your current WLAN architecture and design ways to address them. This includes ensuring the right equipment is in the right place so that your WiFi users have the best connection experience with the lowest amount of interference and congestion. It's also important to look at the types of WiFi devices connecting to the network in order to address accessibility and security.
Click ahead for tips on how to make your WLAN upgrade a success within your organization. By taking the time and effort to build the proper framework for your new WLAN, you can ensure users are happy and business requirements are met.
Perform a site survey
One of the most important aspects of any WLAN upgrade is to perform a proper WiFi site-survey. While you can purchase enterprise-grade site survey software and attempt to do the survey yourself, many opt to outsource this task to an outside specialist. No matter which method you choose to obtain the survey, pay close attention to the results as they are a great resource for identifying where problems on the existing WLAN deployment reside. This information can then be used in planning your upgrade.
Identify areas where WiFi usage is likely to be high.
The number of wireless devices on an enterprise network is increasing at a steady rate thanks to trends such as BYOD and IoT. Because of this, designing your WiFi network to ensure wall-to-wall wireless coverage is only half the story. One must also properly design to ensure capacity of users as well. This may either be in the form of adding additional access points in strategic locations where wireless density is high, or by deploying special “high-density capable” APs.
Consider architectural options
In all likelihood, your current enterprise WLAN uses a locally-deployed wireless controller and lightweight APs that communicate with the controller to receive configuration updates and to make automated changes to signal strength and channel to overcome interference. While this is still a valid architecture, with today’s modern WLAN, there is another option. Many are now opting to move wireless controller configuration and management functions to the cloud. This eliminates on-premises hardware and software and simplifies many deployments.
Understand AP antenna choices
When looking at enterprise-grade APs, figuring out what antenna is best for your environment can be tricky if you don’t understand the pros/cons of each type. If you plan to upgrade office space with typical 9- to 15-foot drop-ceilings, APs with built-in antennas are almost always the best choice. However, if you are upgrading in non-standard office spaces such as warehouses, manufacturing plants, and anywhere where ceilings are high and include large amounts of obstructions such as metal and stone, understanding the various antenna options and how they radiate signal is crucial. This includes antenna types such as omni, patch, and yagi. Each one has pros/cons depending on the environment they’re deployed.
Plan easy-to-manage, secure guest access
Separating internal users from guest users on the WiFi network serves two purposes. First, it segments the two groups so that the access rights of guest users can be restricted from all sensitive corporate data. Second, it allows the two groups to securely authenticate in different ways. On enterprise WLANs, corporate users typically authenticate using RADIUS authentication against a directory server. Legacy guest WiFi networks, on the other hand, often used a pre-shared key (PSK) for authentication. While a PSK works, it lends itself to security issues as the same password is used for all guest users. Thus, the PSK needs to be changed frequently. More modern methods for guest access include individual logins that expire after a certain period and authentication using SMS text messages and social networks. Whichever way you choose, make sure that guest access is both secure and easy to manage.
Eliminate potential frequency and interference issues
If you’re planning to deploy a WLAN in a densely populated area, you may be fighting with neighbors for frequency in both the 2.4 and 5GHz ranges. Additionally, other radio communications and physical obstructions can detrimentally impact the efficiency and coverage of parts of your WiFi network. Spectrum analyzers, site surveys, and a general understanding of WiFi interference can help you identify and eliminate these types of issues.
Drop legacy 802.11 WiFi device support
If you don’t already know, supporting legacy 802.11 devices will impact the throughput of all other devices connecting on the 2.4 GHz spectrum. To eliminate this as an issue, many WLAN administrators opt to disable legacy 802.11 compatibility. These days, most devices on your WLAN are new enough to have wireless chips that are 802.11n and 802.11ac compatible. If you do happen to have some legacy devices that only operate at 802.11b or 802.11g, however, it may be time to replace them as part of your overall WLAN upgrade strategy. Alternatively, you can create a separate SSID and place all legacy devices on this segment.
Perform a post-install site survey and plan for adjustments
Conducting a site survey after installation will paint a clear picture of the final coverage area as well as potential dead spots and interference that still may exist. Using this information, you should only have to make minor adjustments to WiFi placement, antenna type, and power/channel settings. Once complete, be sure to re-survey the WLAN annually as various environmental factors change over time and may require ongoing tweaks to keep running optimally.