Wireless Network Optimization

12/20/2012 9:27:19 AM

Improve throughput & coverage in your office space

So, just how important is your busi­ness's wireless network? Many experts believe it has become every bit as vital as your company's wired network, if for no reason other than demand. Organizations' wireless networks are increasingly being called upon to sup­port the steady influx of mobile devices brought in by employees, customers, and guests without any network hic­cups. Moreover, employees now expect to seamlessly use the applications re­quired to do their jobs without the phys­ical constraints of a wired network.

For many companies, ensuring that the wireless network can deliver the level of reliability and speed employees want and need means optimizing the network in any number of ways. The following details various approaches companies can take, particularly compa­nies with operations in large offices and throughout entire buildings.

Wireless network optimization

Assess the situation

How does a company determine if its wireless network requires any form of optimization? Asking employees is a good place to begin. Although it's pos­sible some users will have acclimated to poor wireless performance and believe it is actually the norm, most mobile- savvy workers today know slow, er­ratic wireless connectivity when they experience it. Thus, companies can po­tentially learn a great deal from asking employees to identify specific conditions that exist concerning the wireless network, such as the locations of dead spots, slow or spotty access, and areas where coverage might not reach at all.

Companies should also ask em­ployees about how the corporate wireless network works with specific applications. Are there issues with spe­cific programs they regularly rely on to get their jobs done? Do certain mobile apps require a consistent wireless con­nection to function well? Is coverage lacking in areas where wireless is vital? Such questions will help reveal informa­tion related to wireless usage patterns in the office. For example, employees may indicate that there's a strong need for good wireless coverage and capacity in a conference room where they regularly meet to discuss projects.

Overall, says Peter Jarich, vice pres­ident of consumer and infrastructure services with Current Analysis (www.currentanalysis.com), sizing up the cur­rent wireless network "really comes down to do you have the right kind of capacity in the right places for the applications you want to use? It really begins with what are those applica­tions, and then what has been the ex­perience of your users?"

Chris DePuy, a Dell'Oro Group (www.delloro.com) analyst covering carrier IP telephony, wireless LAN, and wireless packet core market research, concurs. "The way the network is used dictates how you figure out there is a need for an upgrade," he says. If the company uses it WLAN for primary access as opposed to backup or secondary ac­cess, for example, "then WLAN infra­structure should be beefed up," he says. Elsewhere, DePuy adds, companies should pinpoint whether employees ac­cess data from largely inside the prem­ises on servers or outside the premises in an as-a-service manner, as well whether the data and services are acces­sible through other means if the WLAN fails, such as a cellular connection.

Do some rearranging

Some companies may be able to im­prove the signal strength of their wire­less network and potentially remedy dead spots that exist just by moving a WAP (wireless access point) or wireless router to a different location, such as a central location in the office. "Another way to improve network performance is to use controllers or cloud-based controller-less systems to help manage a medium to large-sized number of access points," DePuy says. This may require upgrading to new access points, he says, but controllers and similar management systems enable coordi­nating security policies, spectrum man­agement, and (in many cases) guest access systems that the company can implement quickly and on a large scale.

Jarich also believes companies should investigate segmenting wire­less traffic. "Typically you hear about putting guests on a different network for security purposes, but whether it's guests or different offices, if you can segment the network and [impose] caps in terms of how that traffic is treated, you can enable that priority access to the people that need it," he says. Another option for companies that can afford it is hiring a company to conduct a site survey to ensure access points are op­timally placed. There is no shortage of such companies, Jarich says, and the procedure can be of huge value to the company. It can also be expensive, he says, particularly for smaller enterprises.

"If you have an unlimited amount of money, you can get a crazy-good wireless network," Jarich says, but com­panies have to prioritize cost against what it is trying to do and what its re­quirements are. "That's why things like upgrading infrastructure, upgrading clients, [and] segmenting traffic bubble up to the top because they give you the biggest bang for the buck," he says.

Move to 802.11n

Arguably the most logical and ben­eficial way companies with an older wireless network can improve wire­less performance is to upgrade the in­frastructure from hardware using the 802.11b/g standards to 802.11n. In addition to the typical improvement in wireless range, moving to 802.11n equipment will add a considerable throughput boost. In terms of compatibility, 802.11n networks accommodate the 802.11b/g clients that a company may still be using. DePuy further ad­vises that if the current network uses only 2.4GHz channels, upgrade to a dual-mode wireless LAN system that also uses 5GHz channels, which newer mobile devices support and which offer "up to seven times more frequency available when compared to the 2.4GHz spectrum," DePuy says, adding that the 2.4GHz spectrum is "typically overloaded."

Jarich says moving to an 802.11n network is the "first line of defense you're going to hear from everyone," but the second part of the story is "making sure that's matched on the client side of things." While the 802.11n network will support existing 802.11b/g clients, those clients will ac­cess the network at slower speeds, he says, and "you're not going to get the most out of your network."

Arguably the most logical and ben¬eficial way companies with an older wireless network can improve wire¬less performance is to upgrade the in¬frastructure from hardware using the 802.11b/g standards to 802.11n.

Arguably the most logical and ben­eficial way companies with an older wireless network can improve wire­less performance is to upgrade the in­frastructure from hardware using the 802.11b/g standards to 802.11n.

Post installation

When considering how to optimize the wireless network, Jarich says com­panies should remember that doing so isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition, as different organizations have different demands and include different business units. Whatever optimization measures a company takes, it should implement monitoring procedures af­terward to verify there have been ac­tual improvements to signal coverage, throughput performance, and power savings, and to verify that the improve­ments are ongoing.

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