WiFi Analysis & Troubleshooting
Wireless networks used to be simply for convenience, but thanks to today's IT organizations, WiFi networks can drive high performance applications critical to businesses, or in the case of medical facilities, deliver life-saving information to doctors, nurses, and healthcare applications. The explosive growth of tablets, Netbooks, and other mobile devices has driven the demand for Wi-Fi service even further as these BYODs (Bring Your Own Devices) are brought into the workplace and expect service.
In the old days, the wireless network was only used in focused locations for a few data-based applications. Now, these devices demand voice, video, and data services - on the move. To meet these demands, some wireless network environments are requiring complete overhauls to deliver thorough wireless signal coverage and high quality connectivity at high speeds, without sacrificing security. It used to be that supporting new users only required adding new access points. That is no longer the case. Since the wireless user of today requires more bandwidth for high performance, business critical applications, in addition to voice and video, signal quality as well as complete coverage is critical.
If they don't have one already, IT organizations will soon be required to have a wireless network engineer. Since the Wireless network is now a business critical service, it requires monitoring, analysis and troubleshooting skills specific to Wi-Fi. In many wireless network environments, engineers have only been concerned with signal coverage - a well covered area was the goal, and enough to provide acceptable service. This is no longer the case.
To support voice, video, and high performance business apps, we need good quality as well, which requires low interference, correct channel planning, and understanding of Spectrum Analysis to locate interferers. Businesses may also be required to enforce wireless usage policies affecting tablets and smartphones, as these will continue their steady increase in the workplace. Due to the fact that most tablet and smartphone devices have lower-power radios than their full-power laptop counterparts, poor signal coverage and quality will have a greater impact on them, requiring a more robust wireless network environment. Additionally, the need for security within a wireless network is a must. Being able to detect and block attacks before they infect the network is a must have.
In a home wireless network we simply buy an 802.11n router and plug it in. This doesn't work in a business environment. The implications of migrating to 802.11n, along with all the interference and channel considerations should be thoroughly understood. Mobile devices have lower-power radios than traditional laptop radios, so these will require more signal coverage in order to have a similar performance experience. Additionally, mobile devices allow a new pathway into the network environment for hackers, as these can be compromised to allow a backdoor around security mechanisms. These threats need to be understood and mitigated through use policies and constant site scans. The increase in access points to support mobile users can put a greater load on the infrastructure cabling. In addition to user data, these cables carry the power which drives these infrastructure devices. Legacy cable may not be ready for the increased load in both data and power.
Businesses today should be preparing for the steady influx of bandwidth-hungry mobile devices. To do so, a complete site survey should be conducted before adding additional access points. Watch for more than just signal coverage. Identify areas where throughput is low, where channels overlap and cause interference, and where interferers are located.
A spectrum analysis tool should be used to identify and locate interferers including microwave ovens, BlueTooth devices, cordless phones, security cameras, and other unexpected devices. Security assessments are critical in Wi-Fi environments, and should be conducted regularly. Companies should consider a WIPS/WIDS solution to protect the network as well as using guest SSID's to support tablets and other mobile devices, thus protecting business applications from the casual user and from hackers who could compromise them.
When users have problems connecting to the wireless environment, or when performance is slow, handheld tools are needed to validate and troubleshoot these problems. Built-in features in these tools should bring simplicity in a complex wireless environment, allowing network technicians to resolve problems without needing expert-level experience in wireless systems.
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