WLAN: Six Things That Can Go Wrong
Setting up a wireless network across your campus or at a public facility can seem deceptively easy: Buy a wireless access point and connect it to the Internet, or buy more access points and a wireless controller to expand an existing network. But did you take into account that your wireless local area network (WLAN) is a key element of your critical business infrastructure?
Without reliable Wi-Fi connectivity, your business-critical applications, such as Skype for Business, will not deliver the quality of experience your business demands. Network cables are less and less in use, meaning that disruption of Wi-Fi service at a workplace or public facility can cause real damage. Resulting network downtime will consequently impact your employee productivity, your customers’ experience, and your bottom line. In fact, a recent report by Ponemon Institute showed the cost of enterprise network downtime per minute, on average, to exceed $7000 in 2016.
What can go wrong with your WLAN in day-to-day operations? And what steps can you take to easily prevent “my Wi-Fi is not working?”
SIX THINGS YOU NEED TO TEST IN A WLAN NETWORK SERVING 20+ USERS
1. Connectivity: Perform a basic “operational check” to ensure all types of devices that you expect will be used on the network can connect and transfer data.
2. Interference: Identify radio frequency (RF) interference sources or conditions that can disrupt the Wi-Fi signal, see if your WLAN equipment is able to overcome them, and plan the network accordingly. In most hospitals and healthcare institutions, for example, there is some background interference from numerous endpoints operating on same RF frequencies used by mission-critical Wi-Fi patient monitors; in addition, Wi-Fi disturbance from patients and visitors bringing in their own devices is completely unavoidable. Consequently, it is important that the hospitals’ critical devices and Wi-Fi access points be able to cope with interference.
3. Capacity and coverage: Test whether you have enough power in the right places to serve all users. If you have more than one access point serving a defined coverage zone, you will need to anticipate peak usage volumes at different locations, such as a cafeteria or a conference room. Setting the transmit power to maximum on all of your access points is not always the right solution, as it may cause unnecessary roaming of wireless-connected devices in the same location.
4. Roaming and range: Test the signal range of your WLAN and how quickly and smoothly devices roam between access points when a user moves around the facility. On university campuses, in conference halls, or in hospitals, Wi-Fi devices have to operate across large areas. This means that Wi-Fi coverage is likely to be variable, and some devices will have to respond to being in areas with variable or poor coverage—especially if the devices are portable. Qualities like packet loss, retransmissions, latency, and jitter are therefore all key performance indicators (KPIs) to check whether a particular device will cope across the entire range of the facility. Without testing, you will not know your true range, as it is affected by many physical conditions in your facility.
5. Load and performance: Test how your WLAN infrastructure will function under the load of additional traffic and users—and at which point the quality of user experience will start to degrade as a function of increasing load. This will create reasonable expectations of how far additional employees or visitors can stretch the existing equipment without sacrificing the network reliability and performance your mission critical applications demand.
6. Policies and quality of service (QoS): Test whether you can promote important application traffic, such as voice and video; demote less important traffic; and block unwanted traffic. Modern access points can help you define application and bandwidth-utilization policies to ensure highest QoS for mission-critical applications and avoidance of unwanted applications (e.g., Netflix) in your enterprise environment.
Whether you are a business user leveraging Wi-Fi for employees or customers, or an information technology (IT) professional setting up a WLAN, it is possible, up to a certain point, to test these items yourself without special skills or equipment. Doing this can prevent some of the most common malfunctions.
For more challenging Wi-Fi concerns, Ixia® provides more comprehensive testing. As the industry’s premier leader in Wi-Fi performance testing, Ixia helps thousands of organizations, including those with some of the world’s largest WLAN deployments, test and verify that their Wi-Fi equipment and infrastructure is working properly. We have created a quick guide that will show you how to do a basic test of all six items above. This will give you the immediate benefit of discovering obvious issues in your WLAN network.
Important: You must have at least one WLAN access point in your office or facility to run these tests.
We will explain what you can expect from a quick test, which has limitations, and show how you can test more realistic conditions, and higher volumes of users and traffic, using specialized equipment.