Building a Solid and Secure WLAN

By CIOReview | Tuesday, August 9, 2016
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Wireless Local Area networks or WLANs or usually known as Wi-Fi (certain type of WLANS- 802.11 family) have become a default or the only access method of choice for users everywhere. Around 440 million Wi-Fi chipsets were shipped during 2008, according to a research conducted by Allied Business Intelligence. The research recounts that these figures have evidently shot up since 2008, since consumer electronics apart from computers have lavished the market like Wi-Fi enabled televisions, set-top boxes, DVD players and numerous other smart devices. Moreover, many workers and administrators now access the Internet and business applications through public Wi-Fi hotspots at hotels, airports, and many such avenues frequented by travelers.

While WLANS are permeating rapidly, correspondingly user expectations are on a rise too. The current casual data WLANs must mature into reliable, larger and higher capacity WLANs to deliver predictable service to increasingly demanding and diverse users. A smart move for enterprises and hotspot operators is to accomplish this mission critical transformation with minimal cost and complexity.

Many organization WLANs start with consumer-grade access points (APs). The APs are placed wherever wireless access is required, starting with conference rooms and lobbies, further extending throughout offices and other working areas. Such unplanned organic growth was acceptable when Wi-Fi was a novelty. However, as dependence and utilizations rise, limited coverage and compromised security starts to let down users and thwart administrators.

Issues like inefficient omni-directional antennas, absorption and reflection of transmission by walls, spotty signals, and dead spots create unreliable low-rate connections, break in user sessions, repeated log-in, applications restarts and even reboots. To tackle such hurdles and keep users happy and productive, the current casual data WLANs must develop into robust multimedia hotspots. This means providing predictable, secure coverage that blankets the entire service area with satisfactory capacity and density. WLAN operators that are ready to conform to these increasing demands will thrive in the coming time. Let’s look at the essential characteristics that can make your WLAN affordable, easy-to-use, robust, scalable and efficient.

Elementary Set up and Configuration

If the organization has limited staff and RF expertise, enterprise and hotspot operators should be able to quickly install and configure the entire essential WLAN components such as controllers and APs. Easy-to-understand setups like Wizard-based configuration systems are a must. Moreover, to make automated post deployment adjustments to cut dependence on pre-deployment site surveys and expert set-up, a platform that can search and activate new APs on its own is a wise and sound investment.

Self-tuning

One of the most time-consuming and cumbersome aspect of WLAN administration is dealing with ‘change’. Change such as addition of new APs, failure of existing APs, occurring obstacles, movement of users and changing environmental conditions impact optimal channel assignment, power output, and antenna positioning. Imagine if parameters could be tweaked to respond to such changes, that would require RF expertise and full-time supervision–which is not a very practical solution.

Enterprises could rather look for a platform that tunes itself, has the capability to dynamically adjust RF settings to automatically mitigate interference, fill coverage gaps, and deliver predictable performance.

Enhanced Capacity

The range and capacity of the APs directly affect cost of ownership. To cover large areas at higher data rates, an upgradation from 802.11 n to 802.11ac can be less complicated and costly. However, increased raw bandwidth does not always lead to proportionally higher throughput or guarantee prominent user and session density.

A decent solution is to begin with APs that can handle more than a handful of simultaneous sessions and APs that can automatically load share. Also look for features like broad channel support and adaptive directional antennas that allow the APs to be placed in closer proximity without interference.

Tiered Service Levels

High-tech devices and multimedia applications require WLANs to provide optimum bandwidth for their unique needs. But tossing additional bandwidth at multimedia is not a solution, as streaming videos will consume capacity and slow down data and render VoIP unusable. Deploy APs that will prioritize traffic using 802.11e Wi-Fi Multimedia access categories– voice, video, best effort, and background without intricate and tiresome administration.

Additionally, watch out for optimizations critical to users, like WLAN tunneling to lessen VoIP latency and power-save to preserve handset battery life. Enterprises can allot resources and operators can tap opportunities for revenue by delivering premium service to selected users.

Simple and Stout Security

Begin with APs that sustain standard 802.11i security, including WPA and WPA2, using PSK and 802.1X authentication. Organizations can look for new capabilities that offer automatic client security configuration. Currently, there are systems that deliver the ability for the network itself to configure the wireless and security settings on the end user’s laptop.

Another major decisive factor is the incorporation with Active Directory or RADIUS server if it is already in place. Also, with wide variety of users like guests and embedded device users, organizations need to look for a platform that lets them assign role-based security policies using multiple SSIDs and VLANs to segregate users and control the traffic.

Low Maintenance 

Enterprises and hotspot operators cannot meet the expense of continually observing their networks, nor can they spend a lot of time tuning them. Still, companies might want the ability to swiftly determine how their WLAN is operating and who is using it.

Seek for a platform with a centralized easy-to-use console that helps to observe the entire WLAN at a glance, and then dig more to troubleshoot or update APs. Assure that the IT staff can visualize RF status, device locations, user connections, recent alerts, and historical reports at a level of feature that is particular for the organization.