For most, wireless service has the built in perception that it may not work everywhere, all the time. This goes for mobile phone services as well as Wi-Fi networks.
Deploying a reliable Wi-Fi network has become a greater challenge in the past few couple years with an explosion in use, in particular from devices such as tablets and smartphones. More devices generating more wireless traffic means deploying more wireless gear to handle the increased load. Expanding the wireless network can create more problems than it solves by creating interference and exposing new chokepoints in the network.
So how do you expand your Wi-Fi network and know it will deliver the goods to your users? Here are a few recommendations:
- Plan: It is surprising how often this step is skipped, ignored, and/or misunderstood in the process of deploying wireless. You cannot just throw up more APs and expect things to work. Create a solid plan from the start is absolutely key – don’t gloss over this point. If you do not have experience in this area, make sure you bring on the help of a vendor or consultant. It is not rocket science, but you can’t overlook creating a solid foundation on which everything else will be built.
- Right-size: Wi-Fi is a shared communications medium – think Ethernet hub, as opposed to Ethernet switch. Given this, make sure you have enough capacity in your network to handle your requirements. Seeing good Wi-Fi signal everywhere is not enough – if there are a lot of devices using the wireless, performance will slow down since they are all sharing that bandwidth. Establish your requirements up front – how many devices, what application bandwidth they will require – then size the network for the amount of gear needed. Don’t underestimate the impact of this – most wireless networks are significantly under-provisioned compared to what is needed from them, which translates to less than stellar performance.
- Train: Invest some effort to train your IT staff about wireless so that they are prepared to operate and support the wireless network. Understanding the subtleties of wireless is quite different than most other IT disciplines and many (if not most) do not have a solid background in this area. There is plenty of training options available, whether from your vendor, integrator, or a separate 3rd party.
- Tools: Make sure you have the right tools in place to operate and troubleshoot the network when issues occur. Wi-Fi has a unique set of characteristics so the tools needed are specialized. There quite a few free tools readily available (such as Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector (http://www.xirrus.com/Products/Wi-Fi-Inspector.aspx) that can be used to see what is going on in the RF environment, as well as more sophisticated tools in the market for purchase. Make sure your vendor’s management solution provides the visibility you need into the wireless network for ongoing operation.