It’s been 25 years since the 802.11 WiFi standard was established. Back then, “data rates of even 2Mbps were considered impressive … and ‘the wireless’ used to be an accessory to the faster Ethernet network, ” as Lee Badman of Network Computing put it.
Now, users expect to be able to hit the Internet from almost anywhere with an increasingly diverse range of devices.And “anywhere” most definitely includes their workplaces. Enterprise WLAN managers face a number of challenges in helping their coworkers be productive through better wireless networking.
There’s no doubt that WiFi will continue to advance, with increasing data rates and antenna counts for starters. Who knows how networks will look 25 years from now?
In the meantime, here are five tips for better office WiFi:
1. Evaluate Your Current Network
End-user complaints aren’t the best way to determine the effectiveness of your current wifi network – after all, some wheels are squeakier than others. Plus the user’s location will make a big difference in accessibility. A site survey is a more reliable way to start solving wireless problems.
If space you’re evaluating already has access points and wireless devices in use, an active survey will provide the most details for you to base your decisions on. If you’re planning ahead for future use – say for a new building or floor – you can go with a predictive site analysis, software that allows you to input coverage needs and building floorplans to estimate how many APs are needed and where to put them.
2. Understand Expectations
To decide whether or not a project has been successful, first you’ve got to determine what success looks like. When it comes to WLAN, that means understanding who will use the network and what they’re using it for.
To get a complete picture, you’ll want to know not only what the end users expect, but also identify what stakeholders – like the CIO – feel is important. They’re the ones who will know if the company roadmap includes a transition to an all-wireless office within the next year, for example. Or if your office has just undergone a remodel for aesthetic purposes, the visual appearance of the APs might be a factor, in addition to their effectiveness.
3. Determine the Number and Type of Devices
Is your organization undergoing rapid growth that means more hiring, i.e. more end users? What’s the company’s BYOD policy? Will guests also need to be able to access WiFi?
The answers to these questions will help you determine how many wireless devices will be in use during the workday, which in turn affects the required density of access points.
It also helps to consider which types of devices are going to be used. Here at EventBoard, for example, we’ve found that some newer versions of iOS have a difficult time connecting back to a dual band wireless. Our conference room display iPads work better when they’re attached to a 2.4Ghz band, which led us to set up a hidden SSID that is only on 2.4Ghz.
Speaking of bands, don’t forget to perform a spectrum analysis to find any sources of interference in either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, such as microwaves or wireless video cameras, or even other buildings’ WLANs.
4. Consider the Infrastructure
The physical characteristics of the building in which your office is located is another key factor in determining how many access points are needed, where to mount them, the level of transmit power for each one, and even which bands to use.
Start out by evaluating the type of building materials for each area that needs wireless access, because different types of walls and other obstructions will impede the signal strength. The difference between dry wall and a brick wall, for example, is equivalent to a 50% reduction in signal strength!
See a cool signal strength heat map by wireless troubleshooting company MetaGeek.
One network engineer, saddled with a 100-year-old building, is trying to mitigate the obstacles from the building materials and layout by installing more access points and reducing the transmit power on each of these points.
“We are tweaking algorithms that control these settings so that all the access points see each other and try to minimize their impact on each other,” he told TechTarget.com.
5. Coverage and Capacity
Finally, it’s not enough these days just to think about coverage. In the enterprise, office WiFi also must have enough capacity to make sure end users can do their jobs seamlessly and efficiently, so consider what type of traffic you can expect on the network.
Most modern offices need a WLAN infrastructure that supports a mix of data, voice and video services. Find out which mobile apps your coworkers use most often, and where they use them.
For instance, a large conference room where many people are accessing the wireless during meetings – for presentations, file sharing or videoconferencing – will need the capacity to handle those activities.
Managing an enterprise-level WLAN is no easy task, especially when it’s a responsibility that was gradually layered on top of many other duties. So the next time a user comes to you with a WiFi problem, hopefully these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for your troubleshooting efforts.
Looking for more wireless network tips? Check out our support article for WiFi tips specific to iPads and EventBoard.