The wireless network is the backbone of any business today. Regardless of whether you're running an office space where visitors will need to connect their laptops via Wi-Fi, or a large-scale warehouse or factory that depends on wireless connectivity to monitor systems, control processes or give employees access to real-time data, wireless tools keep everything running smoothly.
Therefore, when they do go wrong, the consequences can be severe. One commonly-cited figure from Gartner suggests businesses can lose around $5,600 for every minute their networks are out of action, or around $300,000 an hour.
However, it doesn't take a complete failure to make your wireless network unusable. Slowdowns where key features struggle to work effectively because of high traffic or third-party interference can be just as harmful, and in these situations, it may not be always obvious where the root cause of the problem lies.
What causes a network meltdown?
These 'network meltdowns', where wireless systems lose partial or total functionality or are reduced to a crawl, can have a range of causes. For example, one issue may be an unexpectedly high level of traffic that a business hasn’t anticipated.
If a significantly larger-than-usual number of people are connecting to your network, perhaps because of a conference, for example, this can create harmful bottlenecks. Alternatively hardware failures in access points can increase the pressure on the remaining infrastructure.
Some causes of network meltdowns are more malicious. Poorly-secured wireless networks make a tempting target for cybercriminals, whether as an easy means of gaining entry to a network or as an opportunity to sow disruption. Large amounts of illicit activity can quickly cause slowdowns, while some hackers even aim to knock networks offline completely.
3 key steps to keep your wireless network safe
It's vital you take precautions to protect your wireless networks from these types of risk. While there are a wide range of steps firms can take to improve their wireless performance and safeguard against disruption, there are three main areas that should be focused on.
1. Planning ahead
Many network problems may arise because of capacity issues, which can often be traced back to a lack of forward planning in the design and deployment stage. If wireless networks haven’t been designed with scalability and expansion in mind - especially as the number of mobile and Internet of Things devices within a business grows - they could have very little room for growth. In these cases, it may only take a small increase in users to push the network over capacity and into meltdown.
To tackle this, businesses must make scalability a priority when planning their networks, looking not just at a firm's current needs, but what will be required in the future. At the same time, you should ask if there are likely to be any short-term spikes in usage that can be planned for with the installation of additional resources such as more access points. Key questions include:
- How much bandwidth you'll need
- What type of usage will need to be supported
- How extensive coverage should be
2. Make security a top priority
Poor wireless security is another common cause of issues. This could be anything from unauthorized users leeching off a network that extends beyond the walls of a business - thereby taking up precious resources - to a targeted threat such as a denial of service attack that aims to take your network offline completely.
There are several steps that need to be taken to develop an effective wireless security strategy to counter these issues. These should include implementing strong encryption and authentication measures, changing default SSIDs and passwords to identifiers that aren’t obviously related to the company or otherwise easy to guess, and even physical monitoring of the areas around your building, in order to spot suspicious activity that may indicate someone trying to access the network.
3. Monitor, maintain and optimize
Effective network monitoring is another must-have, as it can help you easily identify weaknesses or bottlenecks within your wireless network that could lead to more serious problems if left unchecked. As well as looking for areas where traffic is high, effective wireless network monitoring and management tools can be used to prioritize or restrict certain types of traffic, control what data end-user devices are able to access, and spot potential problems that might lead to an outage before they occur.
A wireless network shouldn't simply be deployed and left to run without any further input. It requires constant improvement, maintenance, and optimization to account for evolving user demands and address any new threats. As it becomes the standard way for many users to access key business applications and the wider internet, keeping these networks working reliably will be as important to businesses as keeping the lights on.