Dealing with Wi-Fi issues is a common frustration in the workplace, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Although there are many ways to improve wireless network performance, perhaps the most important is proper planning during the installation process.
Wi-Fi installation can be broken down into three key phases, each of which plays a crucial role in performance, security, and operation:
- Wi-Fi planning
- Site survey
- Validation and fine tuning
Taking great care to effectively plan your wireless infrastructure – and thoroughly addressing the multitude of details involved – is a particularly vital step.
What is Wi-Fi Planning?
Wi-Fi planning, or wireless network planning, is the first stage in the installation of a Wi-Fi network. It is the process of strategizing and building a wireless network design that will provide sufficient coverage, capacity, and security.
Several factors are evaluated as part of Wi-Fi planning, including:
- Existing network infrastructure
- Application/network performance
- Floor plans
- Capacity requirements
This assessment makes it possible to determine the optimal locations for access points (APs), pinpoint and resolve potential problems ahead of time, and decide which wireless technologies/equipment to utilize (Wi-Fi, wireless mesh networks, routers, cellular, etc.).
Although it is true that there are various Wi-Fi planning software options out there, it is generally agreed that partnering with a certified wireless networking engineer is ideal, especially for businesses. While a standard Wi-Fi planning tool may suffice when it comes to the needs of an individual user establishing a personal, at-home network, the requirements of a business/professional organization are significantly more complex.
Why is Wi-Fi Planning Important?
Because there are so many considerations involved in optimizing Wi-Fi performance, installation can quickly become complex – which is why effective planning is one of the smartest investments your organization can make.
Wireless infrastructure performance is not simply a “want,” it is a need for modern-day businesses. Even a short period of downtime due to network issues comes with a real cost. Problems with your Wi-Fi not only reduce productivity but can also impact your customers via delayed customer service, interruptions in the customer experience, and so on.
In this way, proper planning of your Wi-Fi infrastructure is an essential component of operating a successful business.
What are the Performance Factors for Wi-Fi?
In order to take an informed approach to wireless infrastructure planning, a clear understanding of the factors affecting network performance is a must.
There are some factors that cannot be avoided, but certain measures can be taken to mitigate the negative impact they will have on network performance. Other factors can be surprisingly simple to rectify through basic equipment upgrades and thoughtful planning.
Some of the well-known factors that can affect Wi-Fi performance include:
- Distance between devices/network range
- Physical obstruction
- Signal sharing
- Wi-Fi network interference
- Wireless signal restriction
- Network usage/load
Beyond these factors, there are other, lesser-known aspects of a network design or environment that can reduce performance. For example, a loss of speed can be attributed to wireless overheads, or decreased performance may be due to a device’s built-in protocol when attempting to remain connected to a weak signal.
How Wi-Fi Planning Works to Optimize Performance
Let’s take a closer look at the multiple steps that make up the wireless infrastructure planning process. The following are the primary considerations that will be assessed by a skilled wireless networking engineer during this initial stage.
The first step, and perhaps most obvious, is the need to determine where an organization requires coverage. “Coverage” is the actual geographic area that needs to receive wireless access. As you would imagine, an organization with a small, localized site has different coverage requirements than one with extremely large or distributed sites.
When evaluating coverage needs, the engineer examines both geographical considerations (such as site locations) and seasonal/environmental factors. For example, coverage needs may shift during peak businesses times, such as the holiday season. In order to avoid unexpected issues, these changes should absolutely be factored into the determination of optimal performance requirements. Similarly, areas of a site that are constructed with thick walls or extensive amounts of metal, refrigeration, and similar components could experience interference with APs and Radio Frequency.
Capacity is the amount of traffic that a wireless network can successfully support, considering details such as speed, bottlenecks, and latency. At this stage, it is extremely important to think about not just the present capacity needs of an organization, but also its expected growth. For example, plans to hire a significant number of new employees or make future business acquisitions would change capacity demands.
The information gathered at this stage allows the engineer to understand how many users are on the network (and how many are expected in the future), as well as what types of clients the network must support, bandwidth expectations, necessary data rates, and the required number of APs.
Then, the engineer begins to dive deeper into the application requirements of an organization. This includes examining mission-critical workflows and applications, and weighing factors that include on-premises vs. cloud hosting, latency requirements, in-office vs. remote access, guest Wi-Fi access, to name a few.
Application factors for wireless infrastructure planning will vary considerably from organization to organization.
The next phase of planning centers on security, which is inarguably critical to the safety and integrity of the network. Strategic steps will be taken to secure the network, including features such as two-factor authentication, firewalls, role-based access rules, intrusion prevention, detection, and more.
This phase is relatively complex and cannot be considered a “one and done” task. Network security is an ongoing need, and efforts must be made to consistently update security measures to keep up with new and changing threats.
An overcomplicated infrastructure can lead to major headaches across the board, but especially in terms of routine management and troubleshooting. In this phase, an engineer will implement automation where possible, working to reduce time and effort needed for day-to-day tasks. Simplified navigation and other considerations will be taken into account as well.
In a perfect world, nothing would ever go wrong with a well-designed Wi-Fi network. But as most of us know, surprise issues can pop up at any time. So, being prepared with a detailed mitigation plan is a key component of Wi-Fi planning.
This stage of planning will involve the assessment of backup options, high availability, AP/path failover, controller configuration, and other things that can be impacted by a network event or outage. It is also wise to take steps to ensure redundancy for edge devices and cloud connectivity.
The next step is to establish specific needs regarding integration and end-to-end network visibility. This means taking a closer look at network reliability, performance, wattage requirements, access network uplinks, PoE and scalability, and others.
8. Network management
Finally, the network management system will need to be selected, based on the needs of an organization. Typically, the size of an organization plays a central role in determining which type of network management is the best fit. For example, large organizations often benefit from using a cloud-based management platform, due to increased redundancy and scalability. On the other hand, small organizations may find that AP clusters are more suitable.
Do You Need Professional Wi-Fi Planning Services?
As mentioned, it is possible to attempt to use a Wi-Fi planner or Wi-Fi design software to determine a strategy for developing your infrastructure; however, it can be challenging to effectively implement a “DIY approach” to Wi-Fi planning for business.
Therefore, most businesses and organizations opt for professional planning, so that they can be completely confident in the security, reliability, and performance of their network.
Should you have any questions on this topic, please feel free to contact us anytime.