The Two Most Common Wireless Access Point Dilemmas

Date September 25, 2014 Author Comments Leave your thoughts

Wireless LAN access point selection.

Question 1: Can I build an enterprise-grade wireless network using store-bought access points?

Do I want a Chevrolet or a Rolls Royce (A fair comparison in this context (What Car? Best and worst car manufacturers of 2014)…? Is not a question I ask myself on a daily basis…however if it were, the answer would – rather unsurprisingly – always be the latter.

Much like motorcar selection, access point procurement can be a daunting exercise. With so many options available, and ranging from the very basic to the ‘Rolls-Royce’ models, it can be difficult to know which option will work best for your business or organisation and – most importantly – which will meet budgetary limitations.

The difference between store-bought access points and commercial or enterprise-grade access points is nothing short of vast. It can often be the case that small office and home use (SOHO) access points do not provide the level of performance and/or flexibility needed to achieve the network experience that modern users have become accustomed to.

Significant Differences

  • Intelligent Interference Avoidance: The first significant difference is that modern commercial access points are able to detect and avoid interference from neighbouring access points whilst intelligently increasing and decreasing the power output on the remaining access points within a wireless network. Some SOHO access points do have this functionality but require manual operation rather than performing an automatic response.

By automating this capability, commercial access points are able to provide a far superior end-user experience for any number of tasks, whether roaming between access points within large, hostile warehouse environments, or simply web-browsing on a high-density office or campus network.

This function alone could be the deciding factor in your selection as it pertains to an adage we use very often in the enterprise WiFi business: It’s better to offer no WiFi at all than to offer WiFi which provides a poor user experience.

  • Access Point Security: The second significant difference is the ability of commercial access points to integrate into enterprise security systems.

Rather than relying purely on wireless encryption, it is often desirable to authenticate wireless network users in order to create an audit trail through which network access can be granted or revoked without changing the global key. It is worth noting that security systems such as 802.1x – which uses Authentication, Authorisation and Accounting (AAA) to link WiFi access to existing users databases such as Microsoft AD – require business-grade WiFi solutions.

Question 2: How many access points will I need?

This is always highly dependent on a number of environmental and notional factors. As with the above, there are choices and decisions to be made that will ultimately affect the overall performance and user experience of your wireless network.

Some important questions to consider at the early stages of planning:

  • How will you expect your wireless network to perform?
  • How many users will it serve at peak times?
  • What type of usage are you expecting (web-browsing, live video streaming etc.)?

Capacity AS WELL AS Coverage

Within high-density networks, such as school campuses, hotels, holiday parks and airports, the number of access points with invariably need to be higher in order to cope with the large user numbers and to avoid slower connection speeds – which unnecessarily and undesirably lead to frustrated end-users and busy IT support staff.

So, the ‘Million-Dollar-Question’ should not – as many might believe – be about the number of access points needed to achieve full coverage, but more accurately, should be about the maximum number of users of a network and their likely usage requirements. Once answered, this question will lead to a better understanding of the number and positioning of access points within the proposed network.

Put another way, commercial – unlike store-bought access points – have the functionality to adjust power levels to manipulate and reduce coverage meaning less people per access point and equalling a better user experience.

Environmental Considerations

The deployment environment is also a very important consideration. Propagation challenges, such as the thickness of walls and presence of obstacles or objects which may negatively affect RF performance will ultimately dictate the number of wireless access points needed to achieve the desired network coverage.

*The most effective way to predict network coverage, design and access point requirements is to perform a wireless site survey.

In Summary

So, in ‘answering’ our two most frequently asked access point related questions, I am not completely ignorant to the fact that I have posed a number of additional questions.

Apologies! My intention was not to confuse the matter further  but rather to highlight the many potential pitfalls of access point and, more broadly, wireless LAN procurement. With any luck, this blog entry will have shed some light on the wider issues and considerations that, if approached correctly, can ultimately help you to create the wireless network that your business or organisation and its users require.

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Author Justin Pender

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