Prepping WLANs For The Internet Of Things

A flood of connected Internet connected devices will create new challenges for WLAN design.

Marcia Savage

April 29, 2015

3 Min Read
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Enterprise wireless networks are already under pressure from the explosion of mobile phones and tablets in the workplace, but with the predicted onslaught of connected things, the pressure is only going to intensify. Suffice to say, the Internet of Things will make WLAN design even more complex.

"You can no longer plan on the number of users in your network. These devices aren't connected to the number of users," Abby Strong, director of product marketing at Aerohive Networks told attendees at an Interop Las Vegas session, Building the WiFi On-Ramp to the Internet of Things.

"You're going to have to decide whether to create overlay networks or connect [them] to existing networks...This can often feel like an elephant on an IT pro's shoulders: More users, more apps, more devices, more threats, more things."

She cited a forecast that predicts 24 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. "Most will use some form of wireless for access. We are talking a whole lot of devices and it's going to happen in a pretty short timeframe," Strong said.

Matthew Gast, director of product management at Aerohive Networks, a noted author of books on WLANs, said WLAN design previously has been based on coverage, using factors such as square footage and number of users to come up with the number of APs. But those old formulas no longer work so well.

"Do that today and you come up with a terrible network," he said.

With so many connected small devices, the question become less one of providing sufficient bandwidth for each device to making sure the network can handle so many low-bandwidth devices, Gast said.

Strong said many of the consumer devices used today in the enterprise were created for "user experience and battery life, not the best WiFi." With more of these types of devices coming onto the network, WLAN designers should consider an increased need for high-powered radios to boost sensitivity, she said.

Gast noted that a feature in the 802.11ac wireless standard, multiple-user (MU) MIMO, will help increase network efficiency, but it's hard to know how many IoT devices will support it.

IoT security is a top concern, Strong said. Oftentimes the devices have custom operating systems, so antivirus can't simply be installed on them. "There are few best practices for how to handle IoT systems," she said. "And absolutely no standardization. The industry doesn't even know what the risks are yet."

At Interop, other sessions provided attendees with guidance on WLAN troubleshooting and security.

--Keith Parsons, managing director of Wireless LAN professionals, led a session on effective WLAN troubleshooting. One of the first steps is to determine whether a problem truly is related to wireless, he said. In most cases, the problem isn't wireless, but rather a misunderstanding.

"As soon as you connect an AP to a wired cable, it's a wireless problem," he said.

--Michele Chubirka, senior security architect (aka Mrs. Y), and Network Computing contributor, discussed open source tools that small and midsize businesses without dedicated wireless engineers can use to test and monitor their wireless networks. "Wireless security doesn't have to be that hard...It's not as complicated as it looks," she said. "You don't always need a consultant or commercial tool. You just have to be willing to get into the trenches and get your hands a bit dirty."

Some of the tools she discussed included Kismet, an open source wireless intrusion detection system and Aircrack-NG, an open source tool for reconnaissance.

About the Author(s)

Marcia Savage

Executive Editor, Network Computing

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