Wi-Fi networking is an important topic to businesses today, given the popularity of laptops and the proliferation of BYOD devices. While gigabit Ethernet networking still has a place in SMBs, the pressure to support an exponentially growing number of wireless devices on the corporate network is a very real one.
I’ve written on this topic before, and projects that I’m now working on reaffirm my conviction about the need for SMBs to deploy proper business-grade access points (APs). These are three of my reasons.
Performance in Real-World Environments
A 2011 report on Tom’s Hardware benchmarked the network performance of a number of APs from top brands such as Aruba, Cisco, Ruckus Wireless and HP, including the Apple AirPort Extreme (802.11n) for the sake of comparison. In a nutshell, the results brought the startling contrast in performance between consumer-level Wi-Fi gear and their more expensive business-grade WLAN equipment to the fore.
Specifically, while the AirPort Extreme performed reasonably well in single client tests, its performance dropped dramatically when subjected to a “noisy” environment with simulated interference from dozens of clients. Like it or not, the latter scenario is one that matches that of a typical office, which is also likely subjected to additional interference from neighboring offices.
Managing Your Wi-Fi Network
Given that they are designed for small networks of between five to 10 users, it should hardly be surprising that consumer-level APs often offer nothing on the management front. Moreover, multiple APs cannot be made to work together, and they usually do not integrate with backend authentication servers.
The former means that there is no way for users to “roam” between APs without being disconnected, or to more fairly distribute wireless clients between multiple APs; the latter lowers security by forcing the use of static passphrases across the entire company.
Finally, consumer APs simply don’t incorporate any security features to protect your wireless network against hostile activities. For example, one setting you will probably find in a business Wi-Fi deployment is the ability to disregard excessive wireless requests from a particular client. This serves to protect the AP from malicious actions such as an attempt to crash it, denial of service attacks – or just a broken Wi-Fi driver.
Moreover, they also do not offer protection against a malicious AP setup with the same SSID to spoof your network, or react against repeated authentication failures with a temporary timeout to guard against brute-force attempts to guess the passphrase. Obviously, your mileage on this front will vary depending on your WLAN vendor of choice.
For SMBs looking to deploy a new Wi-Fi network, I wrote recently about why SMBs may want to wait a little on deploying the up-and-coming 802.11ac standard. You can read more about it in “Why SMBs May Want to Wait Before Deploying 802.11ac.”