When network performance comes to mind, people usually think about throughput. However, with Wi-Fi often being the primary or only means of network access for users, IT managers must consider several other dimensions of wireless performance.
IT leaders evaluating ongoing operations or upgrading wireless infrastructure should maximize reliability and productivity while minimizing total cost of ownership and operational expenses. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your Wi-Fi infrastructure:
1. Optimize for Capacity, Not Coverage
The most common Wi-Fi installation mistake is optimizing for coverage instead of capacity, assuming that the great throughput touted by the vendors is available regardless of the distance between access point and user. Unlike wired networks, more range yields less throughput and, ultimately, less overall capacity.
Increase the density of access points and minimize the distance between wireless endpoints to achieve greater throughput and fewer users per AP. A dense deployment strategy optimizes for capacity rather than coverage, with a corresponding improvement in every dimension of performance. If your organization needs coverage in an area of light demand, consider using a low-cost repeater instead of adding another AP.
2. Carefully Consider Traffic Diversity
It’s no longer just about file transfer and web surfing — the wireless network must support a broad diversity of devices, applications and traffic types, including time-bound voice and video.
Check with wireless equipment manufacturers and solutions providers about specific techniques to optimize wireless LANs for distinct classes of traffic. Some vendors even automate the process by recognizing classes of service and tweaking key settings.
3. Upgrade in Phases
Upgrades to newer technologies such as 802.11ac are desirable, if not inevitable. But organizations don’t need to upgrade the entire Wi-Fi infrastructure all at once. Look for areas of coverage where performance bottlenecks are common and start there. New 802.11ac technologies, such as beamforming, will improve the performance of even 802.11n clients. What’s more, newer technologies, such as 802.11ac Wave 2, 802.11ad and the 10-gigabit-per-second 802.11ax (which won’t arrive before 2018), can add capacity as demand for wireless services continues to grow.
4. Tap Management and Analytics
Spend time exploring your wireless LAN management console. While most management systems can automatically assign or reassign radio channels, vendors have developed a wide variety of capabilities that often make performance optimization a snap. What’s more, emerging analytics capabilities help IT managers visualize potential problems before they become costly or develop into emergencies.
As the circulatory system of the organization, the ultimate purpose of the network is to boost the productivity of users and IT staff alike. Keep in mind that people tend to be expensive, while augmenting network infrastructure is relatively cheap. It’s not difficult to optimize Wi-Fi performance, and improvements in technology, equipment, and operational techniques will yield continuing benefits going forward.