Why use WiFi at your Business?
While running cables for every device is the best solution for a great connection it does have some disadvantages. It may not always be fast to roll out, it can be expensive to run cat6 everywhere, and it doesn’t work always in all locations and with all devices. Using fast, dependable enterprise-class WiFi is often a more cost-effective and flexible solution. Wifi can support hundreds of devices and allow for great mobility in the office however making it work right isn’t always as simple. Here are six tips for upgrading your business wifi:
1. Invest in the Right Hardware
To have the most reliable wireless network, you should start with the most reliable hardware. This is not like a home network with a handful of devices; it is business network that is mission critical to your employees’ productivity.
Many external factors will impede the performance, such as building materials, the presence of buildings, and competition from other businesses’ WiFi. Invest in Wireless Access Points (WAPs) that conform to the Wave 2 802.11ac standard. The access points will have two numbers separated by an x, and these represent the transmit and receive streams: 1x1, 2x2, 3x3, and 4x4. As you would expect, 4x4 access points are the most expensive, but they also have the most room to grow. At Tech Plus Consulting we love Cisco Meraki gear. The MR34’s are a workhorse of an AP.
The quality of the wireless network is also dependent on quality cables; remember you now have 10’s to 100’s of devices all operating through that one cable connecting through to the AP. Good connections ensure good performance. Category 6 (Cat 6) Ethernet cables feature a shield layer that protects the twisted pairs inside from outside interference. Current and future standards require two Ethernet cables to each access point, for bandwidth as well as reliability. So when installing ethernet cable aways do so in pairs.
2. Plan your wifi network for Growth
So that continued success doesn’t wind up putting a crimp in your performance down the line, plan for the number of connected devices to be more than your current capacity and then to grow from there. Count the possible devices rather than counting the users: not only will smartphones and tablets will be using the network, but also consider the individual connections of laptops, security cameras, videoconference hardware, and printers. At least one enterprise grade WAP should be installed every 1000 square feet, mounted in optimized locations on or near the ceiling.
3. Have a second ISP for failover
These days business is done on high speed Internet, so it’s crucial for all employees to have access. They use it to communicate with customers, to use web tools and cloud services which your business depends on, to do research on the spur of the moment, and so much more. If your Internet Service Provider (ISP) goes down, having a second ISP’s connection installed represents peace of mind for you and your colleagues knowing that you’ll still be able to get to the Internet. You can save money by selecting a lower tier of service for the secondary ISP since you won’t be using it unless your primary connection is lost. If juggling two service plans sounds too complicated hire an MSP. Our job is to help you select the best service for your needs and configure the firewalls and networking equipment.
4. Setup a Secure Guest WiFi
Customers and other visitors to your office represent another demand for Internet access. Not having a separate guest WiFi poses a significant risk to your business’ cybersecurity and your intellectual property. Enterprise grade wireless access points support multiple SSID’s, or service set identifiers. If you use multiple SSID’s, you can have completely separate policy, encryption, and/or authentication, completely separate from your main business network. We recommend setting this second SSID up on it’s own vLAN that’s on a separate subnet and making sure firewall rules are in place to keep the traffic separated. Also don’t forget traffic shaping rules so that work applications aren’t slowed down by someone watching Netflix on break
5. Change the WiFi Channel
Leaving the channel on the default is the easiest path forward. However, consider that all the other WiFi networks around you will typically also be left on the default channel, and understand that competition for the same channel will just result in slower speeds for everyone. It’s in your best interest to find a mostly unused channel in your area and change to that. The best enterprise-grade WAPs will monitor interference and automatically change channels for you, but all of them will allow you to manually change the channel away from the default. We love the Meraki wifi access points because they contain a separate security and monitoring radio. This dedicated radio is there just to monitor traffic and report back to the Meraki Cloud which channels are most utilized and interferences in the network. Meraki then uses that information to determine the best channel to operate on. That being said you should still do a proper wireless site survey to determine which channels to avoid and manually check to make sure the AP is on the right channel. Also if you are located near SFO or OAK airport be sure not to use DFS Channels.
6. Take Advantage of Dual Bands and Band Steering
WiFi 802.11ac works in two distinct bands, 2.4 gigahertz and 5.0 gigahertz. It’s best to put laptops on the shorter range 5.0 GHz band, and put cameras and other Internet of Things (iOT) devices on the 2.4 GHz band. The 2.4GHz band has better range and penetration but is also typically more saturated and runs at slower speeds. 5GHz is the ideal network for anything that is bandwidth intensive. If you are using Cisco Meraki Access Points you can setup band steering rules.
In this situation based on the signal strength and device radio the AP will determine which network to use and “steer” the device onto that band.
It’s important to make a plan for the whole project first, so you can have room to grow. Investing in quality access points and quality cabling will ensure solid performance. Finally, running the correct configuration on your hardware is important. We here at Tech+ would be happy to discuss your existing network and what we can do to help you get truly enterprise grade WiFi.