10 Tips for Planning a Wireless Network

The increased prominence of wireless devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets in the workplace means that small business owners are taking a new look at wireless local area networks (WLAN) and the positive impact wireless networks can have on the bottom line. 

Today’s wireless networks are faster, and the technology is more affordable than ever.  Wireless also improves employee satisfaction by increasing productivity, flexibility and accessibility.  From the sales force and warehouse to manufacturing and inter-office communication, wireless computing lets employees work from anywhere at any time to review data, take notes, send and receive emails and do research on the spot. 

Getting Started with a Wireless Network

If you’re thinking about a wireless network for your business, consider these factors to ensure a successful implementation:

Know Your Building’s Bones

Do you know what your building is made of?  Before you install your wireless network, you should.  Dense building materials like filled cinder blocks, brick, rock walls, adobe or stucco construction can significantly reduce the strength of your wireless signal, and increase the number of access points needed to ensure a fast, reliable connection. Also anything that holds water, like pipes, bathrooms and elevator shafts tend to limit the range of wireless signals. 

Count Heads and Balance the Load

Typically, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) require fewer than 24 access points, but businesses must consider bandwidth in the overall plan.  Without adequate bandwidth to handle traffic, you may not realize expected productivity gains. IT staff should also be able to manage multiple access points and balance the load accordingly; centrally-managed wireless controller appliances can do this dynamically to boost performance and save time.

Power Up

After deciding the number of necessary WLAN access points you need, determine the power requirements necessary to support these points, typically 15 watts or less.  While power requirements differ for each business, power injectors are still a great option for powering the access points.  The injectors can be placed anywhere along the line within 100 meters and provide greater flexibility by eliminating the need for external AC Adapter power supply.

Safe and Secure Networking

Who among us hasn’t searched for an unsecured wireless network to jump on when we are away from home or work?  Keeping the wireless network safe is a top priority, so avoid using obsolete protocols for wireless security, like WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). Better alternatives include WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2, which will help safeguard against hackers.  For increased protection, IT departments should configure access points to use the strongest available AES 256 bit encryption.

Common Wireless Networking Missteps

Are you ready to jump online?  Avoid some of the more common wireless network pitfalls:

This Access Point Worked at Home

Depending on the size of the business, wireless devices designed for home use may not be a fit for the business environment.  Although home access points are less expensive, they are not designed to achieve the results necessary beyond a small home office.  Businesses with multiple access points require devices designed to achieve a seamless connection.  Home access points are designed for single deployments and will interfere with other access points in multiple access point scenarios.

Just Add Access Points

The easiest locations for access points are not necessarily the best locations.  While a comprehensive wireless site survey is ideal, it may be cost prohibitive for most small businesses, ranging from $2,000 – $3,000, so consider these approaches to the access point challenge:

  • Install multiple access points and err on the side of over-coverage.  The initial investment in multiple access points will save money in the long run, compared to commissioning a site survey
  • Perform a rudimentary site survey independently by setting up one access point, charting its coverage using one laptop and using its coverage range as a guideline for access points throughout the facility
  • Consider a wireless LAN controller.  The controller recognizes all of the connected access points and sets the appropriate channel and power setting.  Some controllers even let you load a diagram of the floor plan, providing a heat map that shows the signal strength of each access point

Do What You’ve Always Done

It’s easy to become complacent with wireless routines.  Network equipment is constantly improving, with networked devices becoming smarter and more complex — just like the technologies that hackers use to attack networks.  Don’t put your small business at risk — understand exactly where the wireless marketplace stands and where the technology is headed to avoid exposing the business to security risks that waste time and money.

Don’t Plan to Grow

When implementing a WLAN, think about current and future networking needs, and be prepared to grow with the technology. One benefit of a wireless infrastructure is that it is fairly simple to reconfigure an office space during times of growth or change.  The equipment and the configuration should be driven by business goals — be mindful of what potential needs will be six months to a year into the future

A wireless network can be a great asset to your business, but be careful to consider the objectives, limitations and the potential future benefits.  Also, be aware of the possible pitfalls to avoid disappointment and lost productivity time.  When done right, a wireless implementation can translate into a successful business plan.

Sven Rasmussen is a networking specialist at CDW.

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