Wi-Fi is rapidly becoming a primary means of connectivity in nearly every commercial vertical. Enterprises are relying more on wireless connectivity to increase employee productivity, retail stores are using Wi-Fi for cutting-edge inventory management systems, and schools are utilizing wireless networks to create a high-tech classroom. As demand on existing wireless networks increases, many IT managers are considering an upgrade to their wireless network. In this article, we examine the top 5 must-haves in your next Wi-Fi solution.
Distributed Control Plane
Many Wi-Fi solutions consist of multiple access points with a centralized hardware controller. In many cases, all client traffic and management traffic is switched to a centralized controller, which executes security and quality of service policies and forwards the traffic to the wired network. As the number of users, access points, or connection speed increases, the business must upgrade the controller, as it presents a throughput bottleneck for all traffic leaving the wireless network. Newer managed Wi-Fi solutions remove the controller from the data path while still maintaining centralized management, allowing the control function to be located offsite or hosted by a third party. With current Wi-Fi speeds topping 1Gbps and multiple devices per user, it is crucial for organizations to consider a cloud/virtualized solution where the management and control function of the wireless network are independent of the data path for client traffic.
Flexible Licensing Model
Many Wi-Fi vendors now offer managed Wi-Fi solutions with cloud-based management boasting low deployment costs and state-of-the-art features. Unfortunately, many of these solutions only offer regular, recurring licensing models, which, if the license were to lapse, the Wi-Fi access points and control would no longer function and essentially be dead weight. Because many businesses and educational institutions have budgets that change from year to year, a best-in-class Wi-Fi solution will offer a flexible licensing model which frees customers from a regular, recurring payment and allows them to own the end-to-end system or outsource the hosting and support depending on their internal resources and financial needs.
Today’s laptops, tables, and phones all offer the latest in Wi-Fi connectivity and so should your next Wi-Fi solution. Studies show that most users have at least 2 Wi-Fi-enabled devices, and with more devices comes more bandwidth demand. In addition, The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to deliver more Wi-Fi-enabled, smart devices in the business, which will also increase network demand. 802.11ac Wave 1 offers actual throughput approaching 1Gbps, which can serve more users with higher speeds than previous technologies. Future Wi-Fi standards will increase throughput and efficiency even further. With demand on the wireless network at your business getting larger by the day, it is crucial that your next Wi-Fi solution be provided by a vendor that offers the latest, most reliable Wi-Fi technology.
Role-Based Access Control
Heightened security requirements such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the need to ensure that mission-critical traffic receives adequate bandwidth necessitates the ability to control access based on the type of user. Modern Wi-Fi APs offer an integrated firewall, which provides the ability to block unwanted traffic before it enters the wired network, leaving more capacity for legitimate traffic. Before you purchase your next Wi-Fi solution, make sure your vendor is familiar with PCI compliance, offers a security feature-set that allows for granular access control, and allows you to control bandwidth consumed by your end-users.
Reporting and Analytics
The key to evaluating your company’s Wi-Fi budget is understanding how well your current network serves the demands of its end users. Further, comprehensive reporting can reduce trouble tickets and user downtime. Today’s best Wi-Fi solutions provide administrators with comprehensive, customizable reports including usage per user, number of users per AP, and more. Preparing a business case to upgrade your Wi-Fi network is much easier if you can export factual, relevant data about current and historical network demand, which is why your Wi-Fi solution needs quality reporting and analytics.
In closing, today’s users have more devices and demand more bandwidth than ever before. You next Wi-Fi solution should arm you with the latest speeds and feeds without the bottleneck or increased cost of upgrading a hardware controller. In addition, the best Wi-Fi solutions are CFO and helpdesk friendly by providing a flexible licensing model and granular, customizable reporting and analytics. Lastly, security and quality of service are paramount as businesses and educational institutions depend more on wireless networks for mission critical functions such as accepting credit cards and accessing student records.
About the author: Chris Tucker brings over 15 years of telecommunications experience to ADTRAN and currently supports several cable MSO and CLEC customers with ADTRAN’s leading business services products. Prior to joining ADTRAN, Chris served as a solutions engineer for a major DOCSIS cable modem manufacturer where he supported product qualification efforts at many of the top ten US cable MSOs. Chris has also served in several sales engineering and technical business development assignments supporting the introduction of cutting-edge service delivery solutions into the cable, telco, and satellite service provider verticals. Chris holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology from Purdue University.