Understanding Enterprise Wireless vs. Consumer Grade Deployments

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One topic that comes up frequently here at Rx Technology is wireless connectivity.

More organizations than ever are looking to ditch the cable in return for monitoring and connecting users over the air. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not a time to go the local electronics boutique when it comes to your business.

Normally when WIFI is deployed you would select various areas to run the Wireless Access Point’s (WAP) and connect them and go. This can have a mixed return if you’re too close in some areas to another WAP or if you are too far away, or if the devices themselves do not communicate to hand off users from one device to the other as the signal changes. Wiring and metal studs can also have a profound impact on your ability to get a strong signal. One way to check is to run a test that creates a Heat Map of your office. This consists of capturing signals with a device or mesh around the building that can listen to wireless signals and determine the coverage and power across the floor plan. This creates a map like the one shown that will help to determine where devices need to be placed, and if they are adequate or if you need additional access points.

All Access Points Are Not The Same

Some Access Points promise a more power to go further, but the signal strength is inadequate, and others promote just enough power to stay in range within each of the other access points but may require additional devices. A careful review and analysis has helped us here at Rx Technology understand what those differences are in the products. Some manufacturers have ramped up the signal dispersion but fell short on the power, meaning on a heat map it will show nice coverage across the entire area but a lack of power is evident in the various areas we travel through. Clearly this isn’t optimal as we’re looking for just enough power between access points to blanket each affected area without casting your WIFI signal out to the street and neighboring buildings just because the device can run at “ludicrous” mode. More exposure means more risk, and that means more time and diligence in protecting your network.

Even in the world of Wireless technology all things aren’t created equal. Signal power can mean the difference between a file download taking a few seconds to a few minutes. It may not seem like much but in productivity tests with slower signals has shown that selecting links to enter data and submitting can increase work times for the same data by several percentage points per week. Obviously this depends on a number of factors but it’s not a stretch to note that slower connectivity will create slower data collection and distribution which will affect end users productivity. This may be nominal for one user but tie in using consumer grade equipment and the number of dropped connections, lost data, and other issues and it will lead to some serious morale issues if nothing else.

A Good Wireless Strategy Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive

Heat maps can be done on a variety of levels and range in cost but most offices can be mapped in less than a day with significant amount of data to determine if there needs to be a rework of the existing infrastructure. Looking at that information a determination can be made if existing devices are beneficial and can be re-worked into a new plan or if a complete technology refresh is due. Running cables to the areas needing new hot spots, and connecting that back to your existing infrastructure sometimes takes two different organizations and coordination, however, some companies like Rx Technology have the staff and team to handle both sides of that equation. You’re better off working with one vendor for the entire project than working on each piece independently due to the ability to move, reorganize, or swap WAP locations easily.

If you do go through a wireless review please remember to not only get a heat map created before the project but make sure you get a follow up after new access points have been deployed or old ones moved so you can see the results from the project. Even in that instance it’s not guaranteed to be a move and success! Sometimes the building itself will play with the signals and prevent a strong signal from one area to another. There are several levels to enterprise class wireless access points so don’t be afraid to shop around for the best products. Providers may prefer one brand over another, but in most cases there isn’t a clear winner in any brand, so much of it is subjective or based on internal configurations or simply what you are looking to achieve with your wireless management. It all depends on what you want to cover and how much control you want your solution to have.

One More Thing…

One more point about enterprise class access points that is often overlooked but we can’t stress the importance enough is the ability to have a guest or separate internet connection broadcast from your devices. If employees bring mobile phones or tablets to work it’s best to allow them to connect to a guest network that is completely segmented from your internal infrastructure. This prevents malware from personal devices to infect the network and it insures that all the devices on your network belong and can be filtered, managed, and tracked while other unknown devices stay on an outside network connection. Remember it’s about ease of access, but you want to keep your business data as secure as possible. It’s imperative that you consider every aspect of security as it comes to your deployment for wireless. Begin with the end in mind and make sure you’re developing good security habits during the planning phase so it doesn’t have to be broken down later to fix any mistakes or oversights. Something about measuring twice and cutting once comes to mind…although we don’t recommend cutting any wires until you speak with a good technology consultant first for your wireless deployment needs!

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