More businesses are opting for wireless networking to connect their operations. Wi-Fi can be cost-effective, and it’s ideal for supporting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies, where users can access the company network from their smartphone, tablet, or laptop. For smaller offices, Wi-Fi can save the cost of installing cable and maintaining a more complex network infrastructure. Most computer workstations come with Wi-Fi built in, and wireless networking is delivering more bandwidth and better security, so if your business only needs to support a small number of users and you don’t need for high-bandwidth applications, such as streaming video, then Wi-Fi could be an excellent way to network your office. Except, of course, when it fails.
Businesses of all sizes are opting for Wi-Fi. A poll by AT&T shows that 98 percent of small businesses are using Wi-Fi, and that 68 percent are using tablets. In fact, two-thirds of small businesses couldn’t survive without Wi-Fi. For example, consider the increased use of tablets in retail stores. Sales associates armed with mobile devices are assisting customers with inventory checking and transactions right from their tablet. Without a stable Wi-Fi connection, the store would be unable to sell its goods.
When considering Wi-Fi performance, it’s best to think about downtime in terms of usability. Downtime isn’t just total equipment failure, but it is also when your wireless connection becomes so overburdened or so slow as to become virtually useless. Developing a strategy that minimizes Wi-Fi downtime is as much about delivering optimal performance as it is about maintaining basic connectivity.
Here are eight strategies to consider to optimize your Wi-Fi performance:
1. Choose the Right Wireless PlatformThere are different types of Wi-Fi technology and choosing the right type of wireless connection can help you optimize Wi-Fi access. The latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, is designed to deliver more bandwidth specifically for applications such as in-store retail and SMB networking. The new Wi-Fi standard can theoretically hit speeds up to 1,300 Mbps, which is three times faster than the previous 802.11n standards at 450 Mbps. Realistically, you will get more channels as lower speeds closer to 433 Mbps, but 802.11ac still outpaces the previous 802.11 standards.
2. Check Antenna Location and RangeThe new 802.11ac standard is supposed to have the same wireless range as the old 802.11n standard, however antenna location is always an issue and a weak antenna or weak signal can cause Wi-Fi dropouts. You want to make sure you have Wi-Fi antennas placed in strategic locations to deliver the best connectivity. This means not only optimal distance but also avoiding obstacles such as building obstructions or signal interference. You may also want to use strategically located Wi-Fi access points. Your Wi-Fi installation experts can help you tune your network, including optimal antenna location.
3. Install Wi-Fi RedundancyTo help ensure you have wireless access when you need it, consider creating Wi-Fi redundancy. Operating two Wi-Fi connections on different channels can offset the network load by splitting the number of users across two connections, and if one Wi-Fi router fails, you have the other as a backup.
4. Automatic FailoverSome vendors recommend using automated channel controls to optimize connectivity and minimize downtime. However, channel hopping tends to promote connection instability and so automatic failover is not usually recommended. However, having a manual failover strategy to change channels or connections in case of an outage is certainly a viable strategy.
5. Don’t Overload the ConnectionToo many devices as well as too many users will degrade wireless performance. If you are using multiple wireless printers, for example, it can degrade performance.
6. Phase Out Old EquipmentEven though the 802.11 standards are backward-compatible, outdated wireless hardware can affect network performance. Phase out the old 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g hardware to make sure you aren’t slowing performance somewhere in the network. In some cases, it may just be a matter of upgrading equipment firmware.
7. Eliminate InterferenceSometimes Wi-Fi systems can be subject to electronic interference from equipment, power lines, microwaves, or other sources. Work with your installer to make sure that the antennas are located so they are free from interference, and if intermittent interference is a problem, try using a different channel or frequency.
8. Use Performance Monitoring ToolsMeasuring actual Wi-Fi performance is your best defense against poor connectivity and Wi-Fi downtime. Be sure that your Wi-Fi installer provides you with the necessary tools to monitor Wi-Fi performance to help isolate potential points of failure or bottlenecks.
When planning Wi-Fi networking for your business, you need to consider all the variables that could affect Wi-Fi access, and there are many. A skilled Wi-Fi networking expert can help you plan your wireless network to deliver the best and most reliable performance today, with room to expand in the future.
What things have you done to prevent Wi-Fi in your office?