Three Major Fails in Building Wi-Fi Networks

Most businesses deploy wireless networks to meet the strong employee demands for access anywhere, anytime. Employees claim having greater mobility will allow them to increase their productivity. However, having a Wi-Fi network that is poorly designed will not only frustrate employees, but also result in a decrease in productivity. These three major fails represent challenges to businesses when implementing wireless networks.

Fail # 1 “Design

Wi-Fi Design is the foundation to having an operational, usable, and reliable Wi-Fi network. The time spent gathering the user requirements and conducting wireless surveys is worthwhile, as it directly affects the implementation’s success.  I will create multiple series that will dive deeper into this subject, but for now one should remember the “Placement” of the access points. Several times the correction of the placement has been the fix for user’s wireless complaints. Most access points will provide you with documentation on the antenna patterns. For instance, an access point built with downtilt omnidirectional antennas is better suited to be installed horizontal to the floor.  Another important area of design is the “Frequency” and “Channels”. Today, most devices will prefer the frequency 5Ghz; however, 2.4Ghz remains relevant due to legacy devices and spread limitation of 5Ghz. Most vendors will automate the selection of channels, but the software not always makes the best decision. It is important to verify the channels of your access points. As a rule, access points in the 2.4Ghz are set to channels 1, 6, or 11. In the 5Ghz frequency, there are 20 more non-overlapping channels than the 2.4Ghz band, which can be use in the channel plan. Another area of design is “Power” levels. As a rule, access points should not be configured to use 100% of power levels. Administrators may want to increase the coverage cells, but doing so contributes to a higher co-channel interference, degrading the Wi-Fi network.

Fail #2 “Security

The recommendation is to migrate from TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) encryption in favor of the newer, and more secure, AES encryption (Advanced Encryption Standard). While TKIP offers a significant security upgrade over WEP, it has become a depreciated technology that is no longer considered secure enough to protect your Wi-Fi network from hackers. There are multiple well-known vulnerability attacks that can intercept and decipher the keys. Another consideration is speed. If you have a legacy Wi-Fi network configured with TKIP in the security options, then clients (including 802.11ac) will be limited to 54Mbps to ensure interoperability.

Fail #3 “Surveys

Failure to conduct a wireless survey is not uncommon, as businesses want to save in costs. However, as the saying goes “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” or rather, in this case, administrators who fail to plan survey are planning to fail. At a minimum, a pre and post passive surveys should be conducted. A pre-survey will help determine the placement of the access points, understand the physical layout (obstructions, interference, and user locations), as well as to generate accurate heat maps.  The post survey will help measure the signal coverage and how well the Wi-Fi network is meeting the end user requirements. An active survey is always preferred over a passive survey, as it will help measure throughput and behavior of data packets.

These “Three Major Fails” may cause unreliable performance of wireless networks, spotty coverage, lack of throughput due to interference, not enough access points to cater for concurrent users, or too many access points (causing co-channel interference). Although small failures are inevitable, the three major fails discussed can be averted by following best practices.

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