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Standards, Requirements, and Best Practices for Wi-Fi Network Planning

The rules to consider when designing a network

When most people think of a Wi-Fi network, they envision the tiny fan icon that pops up in the corner of their device, hopefully telling them they have a great signal. The average person doesn't think about what goes into making that possible. Wi-Fi is just expected to work.

But there is a lot that goes into a network before it can ever be operational. Surveying, planning, and careful design are the cornerstones of a successful Wi-Fi network. Some networks are much simpler than others. A small office doing basic online tasks, for example, is fairly straightforward. But a large corporation with multiple buildings spread across a large campus, thousands of employees, and a heavy workload is a much bigger challenge.

Regardless of these details, there are universal Wi-Fi standards that govern the functionality of networks and devices. And organizations will also have to meet the individual requirements of their network, depending on its size and operation. On top of that, there are some best practices to follow when designing and managing a network. Here’s what you should know.

Wi-Fi network standards

Although it’s hardly ever discussed outside the IT community, there is a body that sets the standards for Wi-Fi networks: the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Although this group doesn’t have legal authority, they do make the rules when it comes to things like wireless device design and encryption. Companies comply with IEEE because their standards make it possible for wireless devices to communicate with one another.

802.11 is a set of standards that govern Wi-Fi networks. It was developed in the ‘90s and has gone through several versions as technology developed. You will often see a letter after 802.11, such as a, b, g, n, and ac. The higher the letter, the better the Wi-Fi’s data rate and range. Most wireless devices today operate on 802.11ac, which has a data throughput of 1,300 Mbps. 802.11ax is estimated to be the next version of this standard, with projected improvements of up to 30%.

Devices on the same Wi-Fi standard usually communicate well without any interference. But there can be issues with legacy devices, or two devices that use different standards. Some of them are incompatible, which can pose a lot of operational issues.

Another network standard is the use of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ equipment. Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ means that a product meets certain industry standards for security, application protocols, and interoperability. These devices are tested to work with other certified equipment on the same frequency band.

Using this standardized equipment across the board should be done whether you are building a network from scratch or updating current infrastructure. It minimizes issues when working with multiple vendors and avoids the headaches caused by equipment from various sources.

Wi-Fi network requirements and best practices

In addition to these standards, every organization will have its own network requirements. These tell you how the network needs to perform and within what parameters. The overall requirement categories are very common across all networks, although the details will vary.

Coverage area and physical environment

Take into account the physical location of the network. Is it a multi-campus hospital, an auditorium, or a small office? Each of these has very different needs. Once you understand the scope, it’s important to identify the coverage areas. Does every inch of the facility need coverage? Are there outdoor areas to consider?

The construction of the location is also critical to network design. Factors such as building materials and floor plans can dampen signals and increase frequency.

Number of devices and users

The number of users accessing the network at any given time is also important to know. Is it an environment with a stable number of employees that hardly ever changes? Is it a hospital with a steady number of employees but a constantly rotating number of visitors and vendors? Is it an auditorium where there will be long stretches of time with just a few users and then a sudden burst of thousands?

The types of devices connecting to the network all have different requirements as well. As we discussed earlier, Wi-Fi standards have evolved over time. Newer devices should be able to talk to each other easily, but you may need to take legacy equipment into account as well.

What the network needs to do

An advertising agency working with huge art and design files will need a different network plan than an accounting firm or a small travel agency that is working with smaller programs and files. Understanding what the user needs their network to do influences the technology, the placement, and the overall design.

Level of security required

One major factor in the design of a network is security. Designers need to know the type of data being transmitted, any current security policies in place, and the needed level of security before planning begins.

IoT devices are becoming a big part of network security as their use continues to grow. This is a large factor for certain organizations that encounter them more frequently, such as hospitals and retail environments. Many organizations should consider a separate network for public access to keep outside devices separate from sensitive information.

Creating and enforcing rules

Many organizations have rules in place to effectively secure and monitor their networks. The University of California at San Francisco, for example, has a list of wireless network and security standards that include:

Every WLAN installation must be authorized by the leadership of the unit in which it is occurring.

The Security Incident Response program will include a wireless security response procedure in the event unauthorized wireless access points are detected.

Any installation over three (3) wireless access points by a department in proximity to each other must be accompanied by a Radio Frequency Site Survey.

These rules are in place to standardize network operations across a huge campus with thousands of personnel, users, and devices.

Monitoring your Wi-Fi network

Once the network is designed and implemented, the maintenance phase begins. And monitoring the network is critical to its continued operation and security. 7SIGNAL offers cloud-based Wi-Fi monitoring software that continuously assesses the network for performance issues at the end-user level—allowing you to address them before they become a real problem. This maximizes uptime and device connectivity and improves the user experience.

Contact us today to learn how 7SIGNAL can boost your efficiency and optimize your network performance.

7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise Wireless Network Monitoring. The 7SIGNAL platform is a cloud-based Wireless Network Monitoring (WNM) solution that continuously troubleshoots the wireless network for performance issues – maximizing network uptime, device connectivity, and network ROI. The platform was designed for the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, hospitals, and government agencies and is currently deployed at Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens, Microsoft, and many others. 7SIGNAL continuously monitors the connectivity of over 4 million global devices. Learn more at www.7signal.com.