Hear from the experts

Right-sizing your Wi-Fi for the Digital Workplace

JAMES WHITEHEAD, MOBILITY NETWORKS LEAD, ELECTRANET UK LIMITED | MAY 2017

Right-sizing your Wi-Fi for the Digital Workplace

I’ve seen a couple of great posts recently talking about the Digital Workplace – looking at where it’s come from, and how businesses are getting to grip with the type of mobile-focused network they now need.

So I wanted to throw in a few thoughts of my own, from an engineer’s perspective around how to start building this Digital Workplace. Because if you’re looking at a legacy network built on a wired-only infrastructure, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

However, if you do the upfront assessment right, and take a ‘right-size’ approach to your Wi-Fi network, it should all go swimmingly. Here are my tips on where to start:

Understand your device and application mix

All Wi-Fi-enabled devices (tablets, laptops, phones, IoT sensors, etc.) have their own RF radio and wireless drivers. Which means they won’t all support the same applications in the same way. And this can lead to an inconsistent user experience.

So it’s important to understand which devices are connecting to your network, and which applications or services they need to access. Make a list. Map it all out. Classify each device by what it’s likely to use – business application, VOIP, location service, etc. Then configure the RF environment accordingly.

Design for capacity, not just coverage

Wi-Fi networks used to be designed principally around coverage – i.e., making sure there was enough signal strength across a geographic area. The main consideration was positioning the access point in the optimum place for the desired coverage.

Things have moved on a bit. As more devices are connecting and traffic is getting heavier, capacity is now just as important as coverage.

When designing your Wi-Fi network, you now need to consider how many devices it needs to support, which applications it will be using, and how much bandwidth these applications require. A single AP may not be sufficient. You may need multiple APs to broaden capacity in high-demand areas.

Encourage wider use of the RF spectrum

I saw a useful analogy a while ago, comparing the Wi-Fi network to a motorway. There are multiple lanes available for traffic to flow on, but lots of devices tend to stick to one or two of them – causing jams and unhappy users. This is because many devices only use the 2.4 GHz RF spectrum, despite the Wi-Fi network offering more bandwidth in the broader 5.0 GHz spectrum.

Designing a network that uses as much bandwidth as possible therefore makes obvious good sense. And there are other useful policies you can adopt, too. Airtime fairness, for example, will prevent heavy users from degrading overall performance for others. You can also limit airtime utilisation for different channels like data, voice and video (so Netflix watchers can’t slow things down for everyone else!).

These are just a few considerations to help with Digital Workplace planning. They should help get you in the ‘right-size’ mindset – i.e., thinking about who and what will be using the wireless network and how you can design it accordingly.

James Whitehead, Mobility Networks Lead, Electranet UK Limited

James Whitehead

Mobility Networks Lead, Electranet UK Limited

I'm an Aruba Certified Design Expert (ACDX), Aruba Certified Mobility Expert (ACMX) and Aruba Certified ClearPass Expert (ACCX). With these 3 certifications and years of experience it puts me in an elite group! Aruba have created an achievement for people who have gained these certifications, Aruba Mobile First Expert. I'm the 11th Aruba Mobile First Expert globally. I've held the Aruba Networks Airheads MVP status since 2012 and achieved MVP Guru status in 2013 & 2017. Among only 6 Aruba Airheads MVP Gurus in the world in 2013 & 2017! With over 10 years of experience there's not a lot of technology I haven't worked with but I'm no jack of all trades. I'm a wireless consultant.

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