Earlier this week, the wireless router in my home office gave up the ghost. Beyond the obvious inconvenience and disruption to my work, I used the opportunity to explore the various wireless solutions on the market, even as I hunted for a replacement. From my findings, I highlight some facts that SMBs should be aware of before deploying Wi-Fi networking in their organizations.
Recognize the Inherent Challenge of a Wireless Environment
There is no doubt that Wi-Fi has entered the mainstream. Every laptop and netbook now comes with Wi-Fi, and we're not even counting tablet devices and an increasing number of smartphones. Compared to the single-digit count in most home deployments though, the use of wireless in the office might not be as straightforward as one might think.
The usual disadvantage of interference to Wi-Fi signals applies to the office. And because neighboring offices also may be using Wi-Fi, as well as the correspondingly higher amount of data transferred during business hours, many of these problems are amplified. Moreover, a business wireless network is much more attractive to malicious attackers.
My point here is this: Setting up Wi-Fi in your SMB cannot be compared to the simplicity of a home wireless deployment. It can be much more complex and expensive for an optimum setup. As such, IT managers should provision sufficient resources and not expect a plug-and-play experience.
Go for Business, Not Consumer-Grade Equipment
The popularity of Wi-Fi has meant a proliferation of wireless access points (AP) and routers available at extremely competitive prices. In fact, it is entirely possible to purchase three or four consumer APs for the cost of wiring up a dozen Ethernet ports. As you can imagine, management would be tempted to calculate the cost of deploying Wi-Fi using the typical home wireless router as a metric.
Seasoned network administrators will tell you that using network equipment designed and sold to home users is not generally a good idea for business. Usually undetected to the average user, I have seen consumer network equipment, including wireless APs, freeze, suffer from erratic performance or crash. I have had to reboot my wireless router; and have also seen bugs in network switches cause intermittent network slowdowns or other inexplicable problems.
Wireless APs designed for business are built to more stringent standards. I'm certainly not saying that problems cannot occur with business-grade networking gear, of course. I'm simply pointing out the value they offer.
Perform a Site Survey for Better Coverage
A site survey would probably be mandatory if your SMB office spans more than one level or has too many obstacles such as cabinets, cubicle partitions and concrete walls. The objective is to eliminate, or minimize, dead zones.
Putting the APs at the right location is extremely important because having too many in close proximity, ironically, can create more interference. Some enterprise-grade equipment, such as that made by Ruckus Wireless, is designed to not require a site survey. This depends, however, on the advanced technology it employs, in which emitted wireless signals are essentially "shaped" and directed using software.
In a blog next week, I shall be giving some pointers to select the right Wi-Fi hardware for your small and mid-sized business.