Transforming a wireless network flop involves implementing a whole wireless network lifecycle, from gathering requirements to having an expert develop a design and a follow-up process to verify results.
Here is a wireless network lifecycle we use on many successful projects:
The success of a wireless network project is born from the planning stages. Critical to a high performing wireless network involves collecting information that will influence the design.
Begin at the requirements gathering stage. In this stage, stakeholders identify and document the business and technical requirements. Business requirements may include specific use cases such as integration with warehouse management systems or automated guided vehicles.
Technical requirements involve meeting a specific signal strength or certain latency thresholds. Application-specific scenarios will expose wireless network support of authentication and encryption methods.
Other bits of information include a budget to help identify the right vendor or perhaps regulatory compliance based upon the wireless network location, largely constraining the use of radio frequency (RF).
Identify approved installation locations of wireless network equipment to discern aesthetics requirements or constraints for a facility. It is essential to understand if the equipment’s appearance will not blend with the aesthetics or brand of the location, requiring additional research for installation methods that do not degrade wireless connectivity.
Ask questions to gain an understanding of the intent of usage to create a plan and guideline.
A lack of planning results in poorly deployed wireless networks that do not meet expectations and waste money.
Skipping over a wireless network design will lead to failure. Failure of a proper wireless network design often leads to a poor user experience and increased help desk tickets.
Based on the first stage’s collected requirements, there can be a couple of methods used to initiate a wireless network design. The first is predictive modeling. This method uses building floor plans and gathered requirements to produce access point locations. Building materials and the capacity required will affect the accuracy of the wireless design.
A predictive model is just that, predictive, but an AP-on-a-Stick (APoS) survey will increase a design’s accuracy. APoS gathers on-site measurements of signal strength and attenuation based on the environment. This method takes more time and resources to complete, but the outcome is more desirable due to the wireless network design accuracy.
Other aspects of the design include application usage and capacity. Coverage is a given in today’s wireless networks. But wireless network capacity is more vital. Adding more access points doesn’t always equate to increasing capacity due to the constraints (physics) we have with the wireless spectrum.
Thus, wireless network design is a critical element.
Execution of the wireless network design involves acquiring the hardware and configuring the planned parameters. Mounting of access points is critical in this phase, requiring exact orientation and location. Antennas can add complexity for installers but can be successful with detailed documentation, such as the angle of the antenna and connectors’ correct usage.
A wireless network must meet the requirements and aesthetics of the environment without compromising the equipment’s performance.
Infrastructure to support the wireless network will be deployed and configured with the correct parameters. Having the right amount of Power over Ethernet specified for the number of access points connected to a network switch is essential and must be carefully calculated. Ideally, moving towards cloud-managed network switches to take advantage of zero-touch provisioning.
Validating a wireless network is critical to proper operation. A validation wireless site survey will ensure the configuration matches the wireless network design specification. During the on-site validation wireless site survey, an engineer will perform spectrum analysis to identify sources of interference or frequencies that may be less desirable.
A validation site survey is a must to verify coverage and capacity requirements in the post-deployment phase. The validation site survey involves testing mission-critical devices and applications. We want to trust the deployment went according to the plan, but we must verify.
Another aspect of a validation site survey is to review the installation for any mistakes or needed adjustments to ensure nothing impacts the quality of the wireless network.
Following the full lifecycle of a wireless network deployment, after the deployment, is optimization. Wireless networks operate on an unlicensed frequency, susceptible to interference and other wireless degradation sources.
Optimization of the wireless network can involve channel changes due to high utilization or transmit power changes because of an access point going offline.
When introducing devices onto the wireless network, additional configuration changes might yield better operation. An example could be enabling specific data rates for an inventory scanner to work more efficiently.
Additions at the office or inside a facility can trigger wireless network optimizations. Or specific requirements may have changed for a location; thus, the wireless network needs additional tuning.
A result of optimization can come from troubleshooting wireless issues. We have performed troubleshooting of inventory scanners in a warehouse with poor roaming between aisles in our previous engagements, leading to a change in configuration for several access points.
What to look out for
Before you start a new wireless network project or engagement, we highly recommend getting a Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE) involved. Those holding a CWNE certification are vendor agnostic, focusing on wireless networking expertise that applies to any vendor hardware.
IT should use hardware planned for purchase in the wireless network design. For example, do not use Aruba Networks access points if you plan on deploying Cisco. Access points have different propagation patterns and features when you compare each of them.
Planning is essential for a high performing wireless network. Gather the requirements to feed the wireless network design. A design directs the installation of network hardware. And once the deployment is complete, verify that it meets the requirements you’ve specified from the start.
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