Wireless Networks Plus Device Choice Equals Major Tech Headache

Wireless Networks Plus Device Choice Equals Major Tech Headache

It’s commonplace these days to talk about how everyone should be able to bring their phone or tablet of choice into a corporate environment. That’s a noble-sounding ideal and an increasingly common reality, but what’s often neglected is the headache and cost that it can create for IT workers.

The shift from Ethernet cabling to using Wi-Fi as the principle means of connecting to network resources is one manifestation of that change. Wireless connections are far more convenient, but they bring a fresh set of headaches to network maintenance. Instead of thinking about cable layout and looking for broken wires and connectors, suddenly interference, reception and room layout become major issues — and that’s before the devices arrive.

As Bobby Guhasarkar, senior director of product marketing for networking vendor Aruba put it at a Sydney press launch this week: “”There is no more Ethernet port. The fact that the network has had to change is a big shift. The last six months have seen more of a change than the last five years with respect to what people are putting on the network, and that’s mostly tablets and phones.”

Of course, IT equipment vendors don’t make those observations in a vacuum — Aruba is flogging a new architecture called MOVE designed to make it easier to manage devices such as tablets and mobiles when they do connect to your network. (The first version of MOVE works with iOS devices; Android support will apparently follow mid-year.)

Aruba isn’t the only player offering these kind of solution; Cisco, which remains the dominant force in corporate network equipment, has a similar product called Borderless. Both can make it easier to offer device choice for workers (especially picky types like CEOs) while maintaining corporate security policies, but doing that doesn’t come for free, as this slide used by Guhasarkar demonstrates:

For me, the key point of this slide isn’t necessarily to emphasise the cost difference between the two solutions (though I don’t doubt that was what Aruba intended in picking this particular configuration to make the comparison). The point is that maintaining a network which can handle a variety of devices is not something that simply happens. There are major costs involved, and a big component of those costs is labour. And if you’re not getting paid overtime when setup takes longer than expected, then as a worker you’re bearing those costs in a very direct way.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


  • Our big problem isn’t so much wifi coverage, but the sheer density of devices. Last year we upgraded our wireless network to about the maximum density of cisco WAPs we can have without serious interference between then, and then opened it up so that anybody could jump on with their phone/laptop/tablet. Now in the busier parts of the office we can have 20-30 devices trying to run off the same wap with seriously degraded performance.

    We could cluster WAPs together on opposing channels, but that’d leave the rest of the office with the ‘low reception’ issue, not to mention places like meeting rooms that jump from low to heavy use regularly.

    I’m a bit stumped, short of painting the walls with wifi-proof paint and having multiple WAPS per room.

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