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Is Your Wi-Fi Ready for Business?

by Frank Tresnak | Dec 29, 2016
Originally posted in the American Payroll Association's PayTech magazine.
More and more devices are making their way into your workplace.  Many of these devices function only through use of your wi-fi connections.  If your business has an old wireless infrastructure (or no wi-fi capability at all) you run the risk of not being able to handle the computing needs of a changing environment.
Wi-Fi is defined by Wikipedia as, “a popular technology that allows an electronic device to exchange data or connect to the Internet wirelessly using radio waves.” An example of devices that use wi-fi include personal computers, smart phones, tablet computers,and e-readers.  Increasingly other less traditional devices are being designed to use wi-fi to access functions:  thermostats to control your HVAC, lighting and other energy management devices, printers that can be placed where a wired connection may not be possible, door locking and security access systems, appliances….any devices that need to alert or control functions in your business.
What do you need to know so your payroll department does not find themselves unable to connect?
Here are some wi-fi basics:  
You connect by finding the Network Name, commonly called the SSID (Service Set Identifier), which shows on your device to connect via wi-fi.  There are several levels of security on making the connection, and your equipment configuration will control the SSID to be visible to people in or outside your company.  Depending on the number of users, you may have multiple SSIDs to access your wi-fi infrastructure.
There are different standards that dictate the performance and speed of wi-fi networks. These follow a standard called 802.11, with levels a, b, c, g, n and ac determining the speed and capacity performance. When purchasing equipment, it should meet a minimum of the “n” standard, with the higher performance “ac” standard coming into use, having been certified in 2013.  If your existing router is more than a few years old, you could benefit from an upgrade.
Security and access will vary based on the user’s needs.  Wireless connections are less secured that the traditional wired network version. If you have frequent visitors, you may need to provide an SSID to be “open” for guests visiting your business, while internal users would connect only via a protected access method, requiring a network key/passphrase.
Develop a policy on how users connect and use the wi-fi.  Are employees allowed to connect their phones/computers/devices to your company wi-fi?  Are there restrictions placed on what content can be accessed?  What is considered proper use in the work environment?  
How much capacity do you require?  Plan for growth: If a user has a laptop computer, smartphone and tablet that are all connected to the wi-fi, and you multiply that number of devices by the potential users, you may find that the service has greater demand than capacity.
It is important to engage with your IT department to plan for the current and future needs of wireless computing, to ensure no loss of productivity.  Budget for equipment acquisition, deployment and configuration.  There are several items to consider when you plan for your future needs.
  • Your wi-fi network must have strong security and management capabilities.  
  • Get equipment that is built for business needs.  Consumer grade wi-fi equipment may not have the capacity, management reliability, or security features you require.  Business grade devices are built to better handle the workload generated by all the devices needing to communicate at the same time.
  • Standards are still evolving.  Most wi-fi systems communicate using the 2.4 Ghz radio frequency.  A newer standard, which allows for faster speed and capacity has been issued using the 5Ghz frequency.  Newer devices will use the 5Ghz band, allowing you to reduce congestion in your network.  It is important to check what devices communicate via which frequency in your capacity planning.
  • Your office layout: The 802.11 standards used have different ranges for distance.  You may need several network devices to adequately provide connections through your office/business.  Example: Indoor range for a device using the “g” standard is about 120 feet; using the “n” standard doubles that distance.  Caution: having too many access points could cause interference and actually reduce the number of devices that can connect, so positioning and configuring the devices requires a plan.
  • Your IT staff should have a single method to manage and control all the access points that have been deployed.  There are load balancing applications and services that can help you to manage the performance over your devices.
One big factor to realize is the hardware you purchase will evolve and change in a fairly short time.  Don’t hold back waiting for technologies that are planned for release in the next couple years.  Access is vital; be sure you have the capacity today and for the future.