As more and more wireless devices are used in the average enterprise, a holistic Wi-Fi plan is necessary to maintain high-quality service.
The proliferation of handheld devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) has changed the landscape for wireless network engineers. Now, more devices than ever before are entering and exiting enterprise boundaries. This creates more congestion and increases the need for pivots in everything from security to monitoring.
But what has made enterprise mobility a more significant challenge is that gadgets are becoming smarter, equipped with wireless networking standards that have been typically reserved for stationary computers.
More diverse equipment means greater support requirements for networks. And it also signifies that robust and consistent Wi-Fi is even more mission-critical.
Wi-Fi is now embedded in a far greater range of mobile devices
Aside from laptops, tablets, and smartphones, a much higher proportion of enterprise mobile devices are now embedded with Wi-Fi. This includes IoT gadgets like smartwatches and extends to things like cameras, handheld scanners, projectors, medical equipment, and everyday appliances. When a staff member visits the vending machine at work, for example, that appliance may be using Wi-Fi to provide more convenient payment services.
What does this mean for networks? That there are more endpoints than ever—and network resources may be spread thinner and thinner.
The proliferation of IoT devices and other smart appliances alone can strain networks, along with the fact that Wi-Fi must perform well enough to support bandwidth-intensive tasks like VoIP, video streaming and conferencing, and large uploads.
In 2009, 802.11n (or Wi-Fi 4) was introduced, changing how wireless devices could be supported. This technology was able to manage multiple radio signals at the same time, referred to as multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO). As soon as Wi-Fi 4 was introduced, wireless devices and appliances were equipped with this advancement to connect better. A straightforward example is a wireless router embedded with 802.11n, which could finally send and receive data from a device simultaneously.
In the years since, 802.11ac and 802.11ax were introduced (Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6), each providing even more upgrades and faster wireless connectivity. MIMO evolved from single-user (SU) to multiple-user (MU) in these later iterations. With SU-MIMO technology, a wireless router could only send and receive data from one device at a time. But with MU-MIMO, first introduced with Wi-Fi 5, routers and access points could send and receive data from multiple devices, creating a new standard.
A vast range of equipment is now introduced with these technologies to speed up connections and otherwise improve performance. While that means more mobility and greater connectivity—and higher productivity for enterprises—it also means that Wi-Fi networks have never had to support more applications and connections.
The proliferation of new enterprise devices
So, what kinds of devices are creating congestion? A typical example is the fact that wireless printers and scanners have become standard in the past decade. Employees must be able to send their print jobs from their devices seamlessly, and printers must support and prioritize a variety of tasks as teams share them. Another example is the smart assistant. Google Home, Amazon Echo/Alexa, and the iPhone’s Siri are all used by employees—not just at home but now in the office setting.
Finally, there are the underappreciated Wi-Fi stressors; the IoT devices that may be overlooked when designing a network. The possibility of that connected vending machine—or 15 of them—mentioned above is something that might not have been considered. Smart appliances, HVAC systems and lights, and a host of other technologies may all try to connect. And if, say, a large industrial facility upgrades to an army of handheld scanners that need reliable Wi-Fi, the network must be able to cope.
Why a comprehensive approach is necessary
With all these moving parts, coverage has to be holistic. Wi-Fi design must take into account the company desktops and laptops while also embracing all new mobile devices. And that means aiming for blanket coverage that is never spotty.
Every corner of a building or campus must be covered to ensure users don’t lose service as they’re moving throughout the space. And networks have to support both wired and wireless devices consistently. Thus, SLAs for wireless services have to meet the same requirements as those traditionally in effect for wired connections.
In addition to blanket coverage, network engineers also must embrace enterprise-level Wi-Fi with the “future-proofing” capabilities necessary to support new applications and features. Mobile devices each have their own specs and requirements, so it’s not enough to focus on coverage alone.
For example, many more workplace appliances are equipped with Bluetooth technology that requires Wi-Fi, in addition to wireless computers and handheld devices. VoIP, for instance, is now a must for many smartphones and other devices so that business can be conducted seamlessly.
The bottom line: a mobile-friendly approach to Wi-Fi recognizes that continuous, blanket coverage and compatibility have become mission-critical for enterprises. SLAs will start to reflect these requirements—moving away from merely making a “best effort”—since this higher standard is no longer a “nice-to-have” option.
Wireless network monitoring plays a key role
Part of a comprehensive solution that ensures high performance and continuous connections are adequate testing and monitoring. Without knowing how the network is functioning at any given time—and how end-users and their equipment are experiencing it—slowdowns and drops in service can’t be resolved quickly or effectively. And the need for upgrading a network to handle an increased load may be flying blind.
The Wireless Network Monitoring platform from 7SIGNAL runs continuous tests on the network. It assesses the experience of end-user devices so that immediate solutions can be implemented. Connections can be maintained with better quality, ensuring that your mission-critical Wi-Fi devices and applications are always up and running.
7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise wireless experience monitoring. 7SIGNAL provides a cloud-based platform that continuously monitors wireless networks and identifies elusive performance issues impacting application performance and digital experience. By taking the “outside-in” approach to monitoring, 7SIGNAL has visibility into the edge of any enterprise or home Wi-Fi network where complex device interaction exists, and user experience matters most. The platform maximizes employee productivity, operational efficiency, and network ROI. Sapphire Eye® and Mobile Eye® are designed for and deployed at the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, healthcare systems, and government agencies. Learn more at www.7signal.com.