How to identify the right wireless solution for your company Featured

7:01pm EDT February 29, 2012
How to identify the right wireless solution for your company

The massive influx of Wi-Fi enabled devices into the marketplace has created a need for network managers to improve or change their wireless networks.

“AT&T recently reported that 1.2 billion Wi-Fi connections were made during 2011,” says Greg Gerber, senior manager of wireless technologies at PowerNet Global. “By the end of 2012, it’s expected that sales of smartphones and tablets will exceed those of PCs.”

Not only are there more people using more devices, they’re also using more data. Consumers are no longer limiting their use to e-mail and Web browsing — they’re also streaming video.

“When all of this hits, it drastically increases data over the network, presents security issues and exposes other problems, such as dead spots,” Gerber says. “In addition, when a new standard comes out, manufacturers upgrade their products and new devices appear.”

Smart Business spoke with Gerber about how network managers can keep up with the increasing demands on their wireless networks.

What is the first step the network manager should take when considering adding to a company’s network?

You have to assess your present networking capabilities before you add anything. During the discovery phase, examine how your wired network is currently designed. You probably know what devices you are interested in adding, so you explore ways to build your network to meet the increasing demands.

Look at what you have in terms of bandwidth. How much do you have as a whole and how is it being used? How much additional bandwidth will you need for the devices you want to add?

What else should be considered during the discovery phase?

You have to consider how much data newer devices consume. One university found that the iPads on its wireless networks consumed 400 percent more data than any other wireless device on the network, primarily due to video streaming.

Will you allow tablets on your network? If so, you need a realistic estimate of increased data use. You also need to determine how much mobility you will provide with your network. Will you also require additional bandwidth for video conferencing, projectors, smartboards, video surveillance, etc.?

You also need to review your security policy. How do you allow users to access the network? Do you need to segment that access? How will you authenticate users and watch traffic? How will you identify and stop rogue users?

What is the next phase?

The next phase is the site survey. Some vendors provide this service, but I recommend that you also utilize a vendor-neutral integrator that is certified from a vendor-neutral source. This should be someone who has a broad range of experience over a range of industries, along with networking experience.

There are different types of surveys. A ‘passive’ survey is one in which someone comes in and measures the signal levels around the building. That’s OK, but if that’s all that is done, that’s not enough. There should also be an ‘active’ survey, during which the surveyor moves around and tests real performance on links with the worst possible device.

Some companies do a ‘predictive’ site survey, in which you send in your building plans and the company sketches out a best guess scenario, but this is not an ideal solution. A good site survey will contain more discovery and consider factors such as future growth, total number of users in each area per access point and areas where security is more of a concern.

What is one of the most important things that should be done during the site survey?

A spectrum analysis should be undertaken. The surveyor scans all frequencies to be used and detects any areas of interference. A good site survey should result in a wireless map that shows you where the access points will be placed and what you can expect in terms of strength of signal and mobility. If done right, you’ll be able to deploy with confidence. The site surveyor will then make recommendations on a vendor that fits.

What types of networks are available?

There are controller- and traffic-based environments, which usually duplicate things you already have (e.g., firewalls and traffic analyzers). There have been some huge differences in technologies over the last three years. The real differences start to show up with vendors who are using beam forming technology.

With this technology, user performance is improved by 10 times what it used to be when compared to standard antenna technology. Beam forming technology has been around for a long time in applications such as radar but is just now finding its way into Wi-Fi.

What should a company look for in a vendor?

Does it have a complete set of solutions to handle a campus environment? Does it have indoor- and outdoor-rated equipment and bridge kits (point to point wireless to provide service between buildings)? How does the vendor handle voice, data and video? Can it integrate correctly with how you want to segregate your network? How long will it take to install the system?

Also look at other jobs the potential vendor has done. Is the work neat? Finally, be aware that there are huge differences in terms of warranties. Look for a lifetime warranty without excessive support costs.

GREG GERBER is senior manager of wireless technologies, IEEE Mbr. No: 90528541, PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 884-9976.