Do more devices connect to your business network wirelessly this year than last year? Does your team use more laptops, smart phones, wireless printers and tablets? When was the last time you saw an ethernet port on a new ultrabook?
Gone are the days of one wire for one device. Now you might have one wire with 50 devices using it. That’s why you need a great Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), casually referred to as WiFi, for 2017 and beyond. Here’s what’s involved:
Understand the three cornerstones of a well-designed WLAN
• Availability: Can everyone on your team get online when they need to?
And can they get on with a strong signal? Poor signal strength can drag down your business with slow and dropped connections. If you’re in the office and you’re only getting one bar, you will not have a good experience trying to do your work. If your WLAN isn’t built to avoid things like interference, crosstalk and channel overlap, keeping your connection will be a losing battle.
• Performance: How much traffic is on your WLAN?
Sometimes a WLAN will even be slow with four bars. That’s because design affects performance. Since everyone connected to a single WAP is really sharing one wire, too many devices in one area can cause traffic jams just like a traffic jam on the highway. Putting some forethought and anticipating how many potential devices will be used in one area will help you determine how to design your network. You may have to add more lanes to the highway to keep all the traffic flowing.
• Security: Is everyone on your network supposed to be there?
When guest WLAN was segmented from the rest of wired network, WLAN security wasn’t that big of a deal. Unwanted connections were a sap on bandwidth but not a risk to your data. Now that access to your more sensitive business segments is available over WLAN, your wireless network needs stronger (and auditable) controls and authentication protocols.
1. Design your WLAN network using best practices
Designing a good WLAN network is a specialty. Unlike wired networks, WLAN needs to take into consideration the crosstalk and noise that can interfere with access and performance. Location matters, too — a lot. A WLAN designer will use predictive tools to design the right coverage and install the right equipment at the right locations. Multiple access points may be required and planning for them now, before your team starts experiencing WLAN problems, is the way to go. The last thing you need is for your team to be unable to do their jobs because the WLAN can’t handle the demand.
2. Upgrade from using WEP and WPA for security
In 2017, having one network password that everyone knows is more like a coffee shop than a secure business. There are plenty of advanced security controls available for modern WLANs. Network Access Control (NAC), for example, allows you to define security policies that restrict access to your WLAN. It’s a great way to go because devices and users are authorized — a level up from just usernames and passwords. Each authorized device gets a signature so when a user enters the correct credentials from the correct device, the device is authenticated and the user can access the network. Otherwise, they’re locked out. This provides a much higher level of security than wireless network designs that use shared login credentials.
3. Be ready for growth with a solid infrastructure
Don’t wait until you have WLAN problems before getting it up to par. Adding access points, especially ones that allow for advanced authentication, may seem like a hassle if you don’t need them right now but it’s easier than trying to add them later. Allow your company some room for growth in advance. In fact, us frogs consider access points with advanced security capabilities the minimum requirement for 2017 infrastructures.
4. Design to keep your staff happy
Hiring and retaining staff is one of the most difficult challenges for any organization. Today’s generation of employees are highly mobile and they use all their devices all the time to be productive. If you don’t have a properly designed WLAN infrastructure, you’ll frustrate the heck out of them. That’s not good for morale. Or retention. Even if you have IT staff running around trying to fix everything, the eyerolls may translate to eyeing other companies.
5. Small businesses need good WLAN networks, too
Multi-tenant office buildings can be a nightmare for WLAN. If there’s a different WLAN every 1,000 square feet, that’s a lot of WLAN noise! With a site survey and a sample of existing WLAN traffic, a systems architect can determine which channels and signal strengths are best for your company and if you need to add equipment to block your neighbors’ WLAN signals. And just because your business is small doesn’t mean it doesn’t need strong security. Depending on the business, it may need more security than larger businesses. Make sure your WLAN network provides it, along with availability and performance.
6. Work with IT experts who have a good testing protocol — and good partners!
Leapfrog fully tests all WLAN equipment before we recommend it and we train our field techs extensively on WLAN technology. So if a client experiences WLAN problems, our frogs can solve them. For example, the WLAN of a car auction company was working fine when just the local staff was connected. However, on auction days, literally hundreds of people would be getting on the network and the network would slow down and drop connections. This was not good for business. Security was an issue as well because buyers were making financial transactions over WLAN. Leapfrog designed an improved WLAN and our partner installed new equipment free for 30 days as a proof of concept. Within one week our client had all the proof it needed — auction days were no longer a problem. And Leapfrog retrofitted the remaining four auction sites as well.
If your business uses devices that connect to the Internet over WLAN and may add more in 2017, make sure your network can deliver. Leapfrog can help.