Building Better Business WiFi

Wireless networking is often an afterthought in today’s business world.  This is despite our growing reliance on wireless devices such as phones and tablets.  According to Cisco, phones are projected to overtake PCs as the biggest portion of network traffic across the world for the first time around 2020.  If wireless devices are so rampant, why are we not giving the wireless infrastructures they rely on the attention they deserve?  Here are reasons, followed by things you can do to take your wireless network to the next level.

WiFi – The Unique Networking Beast

The primary reason wireless networks aren’t given the same love and care as wired networks are is due to a lack of strong knowledge in the subject.  Wireless engineering is an entire specialty of its own, complete with certification tracks from companies like Cisco.  The transmission media is no longer a simple, two-way street like ethernet or fiber optic cables are.  Instead, we transmit data via radio waves through the air, which opens the door for interference.  Interference can come in many forms – competing wireless signals, walls, cabinets, virtually anything that isn’t plain old air!

Wireless engineers often have more than just specialty knowledge. They are introduced to a ton of unique software and gadgets to help business get the most out of their wireless connections.  Spectrum analyzers, site survey and heat map software, and a slew of portable devices are only part of the game.

If this sounds overwhelming, fret not!  In the next section, I’ve given generalized tips that can help improve your wireless network design without spending a fortune.

Honey, Can You Change The Channel?

Wireless networks, much like TV, have something known as “channels.”  If you’ve ever bought a home router, you might have heard or read the terms 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz.  These are ranges of radio frequency.  In 2.4Ghz, which is the most common standard today, there are 11 distinct channels.  Without getting into too much detail, the important thing to remember is there are only three channels which never overlap – Channels 1, 6, and 11.  Most wireless routers and access points will automatically pick one channel, most frequently channel 6.  Sometimes wireless problems can be eliminated simply by changing the channel on your router or access points. When problems arise, this is a great place.  One of the many benefits of 5Ghz is there are far more than 3 “usable” channels, making it far less likely that one of them will become too crowded.

Capacity, Not Coverage

Back in the early days of WiFi, it became commonplace to think of wireless regarding “coverage”. As in, how much distance can you cover with the least amount of access points.  In those days, getting any signal was a good thing, and the air was a lot less crowded.  In today’s world, this is no longer a good plan for your wireless design.  Instead, wireless should be designed around “capacity,” or how much traffic you plan to have in any given space.

Also, due to limitations on channels and the power of interference, sending a wireless signal farther is not usually a good thing.  5Ghz wireless shines when taking these tips into consideration.  Not only does it not broadcast as far as 2.4Ghz, but it is also capable of much higher bandwidth and has far more usable channels.  If you can use 5Ghz wireless instead of 2.4Ghz, almost always do so.

A Note On Security

Due to the unique nature of sending data wirelessly through the air, security in wireless networking is another aspect we should not overlook.  This topic is deep enough to warrant its own certification – the Certified Wireless Security Professional.  Here’s one general tip that can make your wireless network a little bit more secure today.

Make sure your guest WiFi has a password and uses WPA2-WSK encryption

It is tempting when creating a Guest network to simply leave the network as “open” and not require any password.  The main reason to avoid doing this has to do with encryption.  Traffic becomes encrypted when a guest network is created and assigned a WPA2-WSK password. This means that a cybercriminal cannot listen to the network.  In wireless, cybercriminals can intercept data since wireless network traffic travels through the air, making it a target easier than the traditional wired connection.

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