Selecting the Right Wi-Fi Hardware for Your SMB

Paul Mah
Slide Show

Eight Tips for Deploying Wi-Fi at Work

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

Last week, I wrote about some facets of Wi-Fi that SMBs need to be aware of before deploying Wi-Fi networking. As I noted then, while wireless technology offers a world of convenience, choosing the right hardware can make the difference between heightened productivity or frustration due to intermittent or poor performance.

 

So I want to give some pointers on what to look out for when acquiring Wi-Fi hardware for your small and mid-sized business.

 

Wireless Coverage and Performance

 


While the Wi-Fi standard is the same, not all wireless access points (AP) offer the same performance. As an example, the EnGenius AP that I purchased to replace my Linksys wireless router blanketed my entire home with Wi-Fi -- even in the roughly one-third that previously suffered from poor or non-existent coverage. In fact, the Wi-Fi repeater that I purchased to bolster Wi-Fi coverage is now sitting idle. (It was a cumbersome solution that didn't work well anyway.)

 

Traditional wisdom dictates that APs with external antennas tend to fare better. They do allow for the flexibility of swapping in a higher-gain antenna for better coverage. Of course, the appearance of AP gear that supports beamforming technology, a signal-processing technique for directional signal transmission, is making the internal-vs.-external antenna debate a moot exercise. For now though, beamforming technology is generally found only on enterprise-level equipment.

 

Support for Power over Ethernet

 

Power over Ethernet (PoE) is an increasingly important feature for APs deployed in the office. PoE support in essence allows for more flexible AP deployments, since the accessibility of power outlets can now be ignored. In addition, PoE also eliminates the problem of AC adapters that burn out, while the availability of PoE injectors also eliminates the need to purchase expensive PoE network switches.

 

Support for Multiple SSIDs

 

Most consumer-level APs support only one SSID, or service set identifier. Support for more than one SSID is useful in several circumstances, such as to support the creation of additional SSIDs for guests or visiting business partners. While hardly foolproof, such segregation reduces the risk for your core SSID.

 

Most advanced APs come with support for multiple SSIDs, ranging from two to or something as high as 16, and could come with additional capabilities for filtering or throttling the traffic on the different channels accordingly.

 

5GHz Operation

 

Though not all client devices support 5GHz Wi-Fi operation, the ability to do so is certainly welcome. Support concurrently 2.4GHz and 5GHz operation would be better. This allows for a more flexible deployment and almost certainly leads to better performance for Wi-Fi clients that transmit data using the 5GHz spectrum. Obviously, support for simultaneous 5GHz operation is useful only in regions where there is regulatory acceptance for its use. (Yes in the United States, no in China).

 

Support for Authentication

 

Suffice to say that any large-scale deployment would need to make use of some more advanced forms of authentication beyond sharing the WEP or WPA passphrase. This could come in the form of a locally maintained database on the AP, support for 802.1X authentication, RADIUS, LDAP or Active Directory.



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