Common Wi-Fi Misconceptions

Paul Mah
Slide Show

Eight Tips for Deploying Wi-Fi at Work

Consider these tips before deploying Wi-Fi in your business.

I've written on both sides of the Wi-Fi debate in the past and have encouraged business users to set up a wireless local area network (WLAN) even as I point out that switching to Wi-Fi may not necessarily be cheaper. While wired Ethernet remains relevant in that it offers certain advantages in terms of stability and performance, the truth is that a wireless network is extremely compelling for the convenience it brings to the table.


As part of my series titled "Eight IT Projects for SMBs," I want to highlight some of the most common misconceptions about Wi-Fi, which I hope will be of help to SMBs setting up their own WLAN. Below are some nuggets of information I've uncovered while speaking to the makers of wireless equipment, as well as from my own personal experiences.


Consumer Versus Business Equipment


It can indeed be tempting to grab the cheapest wireless access point (AP) from the nearest Best Buy for the office. But before you do that for your SMB, it is important to recognize that one way to reduce manufacturing costs in this context entails using a lower-gain antenna or a less-powerful radio transmitter. After all, is it really worth saving a hundred dollars or so and end up with possibly intermittent and hard-to-diagnose network issues or unsatisfactory performance? If anything, the use of inferior consumer devices is even more evident and harshly felt on a wireless network than a wired one.


Overestimating Wi-Fi Performance


Users shopping for an access point are bombarded with a host of incredible performance figures touted by various WLAN equipment makers. Do note, however, that the advertised numbers are really the theoretical maximum throughput and have no correlation with the effective data transmission rates. To illustrate my point, consider this: After subtracting the data bits required for signal and encryption overheads inherent to a Wi-Fi network, the typical top-of-the-line 300Mbps-rated enterprise access point will likely only attain about a third of the theoretical maximum speed.


Site Surveys Are Overrated


I have come to realize that the need for site surveys, while not unimportant, is often overrated for the smaller deployments that most SMBs will see. Of course, it would be nave to assume that a wireless network would be immune to interference from neighboring offices, or that no post-deployment tweaks will be needed. It will probably be adequate for a typical SMB office to start planning its wireless network using an up-to-date floor plan, and perform a site survey post-deployment to identify wireless blind spots and areas with poor coverage.

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