In today's business environment, having a strong wireless networking solution is as essential to the smooth running of your organization as a power supply or a good coffee machine - without it, people simply won't be able to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
Yet many businesses may still be operating with outdated technology that has been in place for several years. While such solutions may be adequate for connecting the occasional laptop or tablet to the firm's network without being tethered to a desk, they’re likely to prove ill-equipped to deal with the next generation of digital services.
Indeed, the wireless market is evolving fast. With new standards like Wi-Fi 6 promising a revolution in how enterprise wireless networks perform, and trends such as the Internet of Things greatly increasing the number of devices that may need to connect to a firm's network, the pressure being placed on wireless networks is higher than ever. Therefore, there's never been a better time to revisit this part of your network.
With this in mind, here are a few key factors to think about when setting up a wireless network.
1. Coverage levels
The first and most obvious issue to address will be how to ensure you have adequate wireless coverage everywhere it's needed. However, this is something that's often surprisingly overlooked, leaving businesses struggling with 'not-spots' or bottlenecks.
Every wireless upgrade should begin with a survey that identifies any areas that currently aren't covered by existing access points, as well as elements like stairwells, elevators and modular walls that may block signals, and locations that are likely to see higher than average levels of traffic, which will require additional capacity in order to avoid slowdowns. This will tell you where you need to focus your efforts for the installation of new access points.
Sometimes, you might experience drops in wireless performance that seem unrelated to the speed of the connection. For example, it may be the case that a video conference stream becomes choppy, even when used on a connection that should theoretically be easily able to handle it.
A common reason for this is interference from other radio frequencies, such as Bluetooth connections or even the office microwave. To avoid this, it's important you choose a wireless solution with intelligent controllers or Dynamic Radio Management, which can detect interference from other competing radio frequency sources and automatically tune the network and adjust power to improve performance.
3. Quality of Service
Today's wireless networks will handle a wide variety of traffic, from large high-definition video streaming to sensor data that may only be a few kilobytes in size, but needs to reach its destination quickly in order to support real-time activities. But not all traffic passing over these frequencies needs to be treated equally, which is where Quality of Service (QoS) tools come in.
These solutions allow you to prioritize traffic to ensure the performance of the most critical functions. Typically these include real-time data such as voice or video, but a good QoS solution will let you configure it to focus on any type of data packet. This could be essential for businesses that have demand for real-time analytics, for example, as well as letting them limit bandwidth for less important activities like web browsing.
In today's environment, security should be a top priority, but wireless networks need to be a particular focus as they can often be a weak point for hackers to exploit. Therefore, your IT team must take basic precautions, such as ensuring default passwords for wireless equipment are changed and restricting access to approved devices.
However, regulations such as GDPR or HIPAA set out specific guidelines for protections that businesses should have in place, including:
- Rogue access point detection
- Intrusion prevention systems
Many regular wireless systems may only meet some of these requirements, so it pays to search for a solution that can address all these issues as standard, rather than trying to add a variety of third-party solutions to existing networks.
A wireless network controller lets you manage many aspects of your network, allowing you to configure access points and enforce policies from a central location. They are therefore an indispensable part of any network but you’ll have options for how to implement these solutions.
The main choice is between cloud or on-premises controllers, and both have their pros and cons. For example, on-premises tools are easier to use with legacy wireless devices and won't be limited by your internet speed, whereas cloud-based controllers offer more flexibility and will make it easier to manage geographically-diverse access points.
To determine what works best for your network it's important you have a clear understanding of your requirements and what equipment you have - which is again something you can learn by conducting a comprehensive audit of your wireless network.