It used to be that you could just set up a wireless network in one corner of your office where collaborative meetings might take place every now and then. But now there’s a proliferation of devices that rely on WiFi to stay connected all the time – laptops, tablets, and smartphones included.
If you want your office to be connected and collaborating without having to cluster around one small hotspot, then you need to make sure your WiFi network is operating at peak efficiency. Here’s a few steps on how to make sure that happens. IT vendor Cisco lends some of its advice on how to do just that.
1. Fill Coverage Holes
In the early days of WiFi, CIOs often put in an access point in hotspot areas such as the conference room. The thinking was that employees might unplug their laptops from the wired network and carry them to the conference room for email.
Nowadays, employees move around and congregate in different places such as cubicles. They are constantly collaborating and thus need to have reliable access to the network. “You don’t want a network that works great in the break room but loses signal in the corner of the building,” Kozup says.
Cisco’s advice: Configure 2.4 GHz for 20 MHz and three non-overlapping channels. Some organizations have proposed changing the 2.4 GHz configuration to support one 40 MHz channel and one 20 MHz channel. But having three non-overlapping 20 MHz channels provides greater flexibility for access point placement and WLAN design than one 40 MHz channel and one 20 MHz channel. This configuration helps enterprise wireless deployments optimize wireless capacity and coverage.
2. Got Weak Signals?
Older devices—namely, those that don’t support the latest wireless standard, 802.11n—have a harder time hearing the signal from the access point, says Kozup. The result: poor coverage.
Cisco’s advice: Utilize radio-frequency beam forming technology to focus the signal strength toward older 802.11a/g clients whenever they come on the network.
3. Disable Really Old Technology
Let’s face it, sometimes really old technology just needs to be turned off. Devices that support the first wireless standard, 802.11b, are just too slow and drag down overall performance, Kozup says. “We’re advising customers to disable this in their networks,” he says. “By doing so, you’re speeding up everything else.”
Cisco’s advice: Because most 802.11b only clients are being phased out in favor of 802.11g or 802.11a/g/n devices, Cisco recommends that organizations disable the lower 2.4 GHz data rates on the WLAN (such as 1 and 2 Mbps).
4. Go with the Higher Frequency
WiFi operates in two unlicensed frequencies, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Most devices, including the iPad, are dual-band clients that can operate in either frequency. “The fact of the matter is that the 5 GHz frequency is much cleaner, much more space than the 2.4 GHz,” says Kozup, “so we want to make sure those iPads are connecting as frequently as possible into the 5 GHz frequency.”
The problem is that dual-band devices tend to connect into the 2.4 GHz. Cisco has come out with a product called BandSelect that automatically gets dual-band devices to use the 5 GHz frequency.
Cisco’s advice: Because 5 GHz has eight times the spectrum of 2.4 GHz, and it is usually less congested, Cisco BandSelect helps make sure that clients that can use the 5 GHz bands do so. This helps free up 2.4 GHz in mixed client environments.
5. Are Mobile Devices Secure?
Are iPhones, iPads, Androids, and other mobile devices secure enough for the enterprise? They can be, says Kozup, as long as they are properly configured with the right authentication protocols.
Cisco’s advice: Certain mobile devices support a variety of 802.1x authentication methods for enterprise environments. WiFi networks are automatically displayed by each device or can be located under the WiFi settings profiles. The correct 802.1x method is automatically selected for each wireless SSID or it can be manually chosen at Settings > WiFi > Security.
If no digital certificate is required, users simply enter their user ID and password in order to gain secure access to the enterprise wireless network. If the organization’s authentication method requires digital certificates, configuration profiles can be created by IT and sent to mobile device users.
6. Clean up the Air Space
If you’re experiencing poor performance with the WiFi network, it could mean that you need to clean up the airspace. Microwave ovens, cordless telephones, Bluetooth devices, wireless speakers, baby monitors, and garage door openers can be cluttering one of the frequencies, Kozup says.
“Think about all the Bluetooth devices that enter a business,” Kozup says. “They could potentially impact performance of iPhones, iPads and Androids in that environment.”
Cisco’s advice: Cisco has a spectrum analysis tool called CleanAir that detects and automatically mitigates wireless radio frequency interference by configuring the wireless network around the interference source so that devices can communicate in a clean spectrum with the access point.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com.