Lots of ways to go wrong – and right – when building a WLAN

There are plenty of wrong ways to do things when setting up a wireless LAN, but no one right way either. That was the message attendees at an Interop Las Vegas workshop heard last week, as related in a Network Computing article.

The workshop was titled “From BYOD to 820.11ac: How to Build A Next-Generation Mobile Infrastructure.” The presenters were Lee Badman, a wireless network architect at Syracuse University and Network Computing contributor, and Keith Parsons, a WLAN consultant and managing director of Wireless LAN Professionals.

The WLAN architect’s job is only getting tougher as mobile devices and application proliferate, and as user demand for instant-on access from anywhere increases. “It’s a moving target,” Badman said.

The key to success, Parsons told attendees, is to move from a more restrictive ‘control’ paradigm that emphasizes securing all devices and controlling application access to a more open approach anchored on user identity, where total wireless access enables users to work anytime, anywhere, on a range of devices.

“We’re designing the next generation of networks that need to be around five years,” Parsons said. “What will employees be using in five years? We need to design for things we can’t even imagine.”

A move to full wireless requires a detailed WLAN design process, Parsons said. Coverage is the easiest part, but Parsons warned against adding access points without ensuring the design can provide frequency reuse. “Know when to say no,” he said.

The design should allow for more spectrum to cover added WLAN capacity. It also has to keep medium contention (the number of APs and clients that can “see” each other) to a minimum and reduce the co-channel interference that other nearby WLANs can create.

The design must account for a wide variety of devices with varying data rates, applications and throughput needs. Requirements should be defined in as much detail as possible, and once the WLAN is installed “you need to come back and validate it,” Parsons said. “It’s the same way we’ve designed wired networks – define requirements, design to meet the requirements, and verify.”

The presenters also discussed client issues in the new mobile enterprise. Organizations require a policy that details what users can and can’t do on the WLAN, Badman said. Admins need to onboard tools that provide basic checks on devices before allowing network access.

When it comes to BYOD policies, it’s easy enough to decide to keep out devices like Google Glass, Badman said, but managers should keep an open mind. Nonetheless you should know your limits. Badman advised prohibiting devices with radios that require legacy (802.11 and .11b) data rates. Also, those that can’t do enterprise WLAN security or that require hyper-specific design, such as Bonjour-based devices,  should be vetted carefully.

The workshop also examined the technical benefits of 802.11ac over 802.11n, what new 11ac products will bring, and the pros and cons of switching to the new standard. Badman offered some circumstances in which a move to 802.11ac might be worthwhile. These include:

  • when shopping for Wi-Fi for the first time;
  • when upgrading from a/g or early 11n – with good Cat5E or better cabling;
  • if anticipating lots of mobile clients;
  • when the 11ac costs are equal or close to 11n;
  • in locations where dense coverage is of concern.


Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks is managing editor of IT World Canada. He has been a technology journalist and editor for 20 years, including stints at Technology in Government, Computing Canada and other publications.

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