Two things that really upset people when they try to connect to a wireless network is that a) the connection is not free and b) that it doesn't work properly. The reaction is very much the same within an office environment. Employees not only expect the company to provide wireless but they also expect a decent connection, at par with the wired network.
Router picture from Shutterstock
Bandwidth is always an issue but there are other factors that impact on the quality of a wireless connection. First, the more devices that are connected to the network, the greater the demand on the bandwidth available (a constant in the equation). Second, the position of one or more access points will affect the quality of the service (hiding it behind a concrete column or next to a strong electrical source can kill the service).
The answer may not always be "add more bandwidth". Sometimes you may need to add another router or tweak the existing configuration. What you need to remember is that wireless routers are smart switching devices and they can only connect a limited number of active wireless devices simultaneously.
So how do you manage the growing number of devices employees bring to the office? Different routers handle the number of devices that can be connected based on their settings, but there is a finite number. One solution is to install more routers, but this needs to be done properly or it will backfire.
The first step, I would suggest, is to calibrate an existing router to handle more devices before you choose the more expensive and complex path of installing more routers.
Here are few tips to maximise the use of a single-router setup:
1. Bandwidth allocation is directly proportional to the number of connected devices and the type of applications being communicated. Real-time applications (for example, video streaming, audio, conferencing, gaming, and so on) are given priority using a quality of service (QoS) protocol and require a minimum bandwidth allocation.
The type of router affects bandwidth allocation and number of connections. For example, 802.11ac gives larger chunks of the total bandwidth at the expense of the number of devices. Pre-assigning bandwidth for certain devices (also known as VIP) can limit the number of devices. All network devices compete for the total bandwidth of the wireless router.
2. Location plays a key role when configuring routers to maximise the number of devices that can be connected.
a. What frequency is chosen will affect the wireless signal. If the router is installed in a small office, the admin can choose a high frequency channel to limit the distance of the Wi-Fi signal but sufficient to cover the area. The opposite is true if the wireless router is meant to cover an entire building.
b. Choose a location for the router where it will not be blocked by walls, floors or dense objects. This can improve the quality of the signal. The signal is proportional to network speed; which is proportional to the number of devices.
c. Knowing the location of the majority of devices will help you better position the router.
3. Every device is different and knowing which type of wireless device (mobile phones, laptops, printers, etc.) is connected will be important when you configure router settings.
4. Allocating one or more routers to handle the maximum possible number of connected devices is not an efficient setup, because those devices won't all be communicating at the same time.
5. Routing table management is also important for a good service. Do not use static IP address allocation because IP addresses are reserved for different devices even if they are not connected. Instead, use a DHCP server.
6. Manage the access control list to allow or block users. You may want to allocate a particular router to a specific department or group of devices. This will improve the overall quality of service because the number of devices that can be connected is managed by the administrator. Doing so, however, means that you will have to deploy additional access points to serve other departments/employees.
7. Manage network usage priorities at different times of the day and different days of the week (e.g., backup must be performed at night when the network is less busy). Also avoid heavy duty tasks over wireless if an Ethernet network can be used (downloading patches or AV updates over wireless doesn't make sense if bandwidth is limited).
8. Keep the router firmware up to date. This is important for security reasons as well as overall router performance.
9. Monitor the network to discover illegal devices. It's surprising how many devices that should not be connected to the network still are. Point 6 above will go a long way towards minimising illegal device connections on your wireless network.
Setting up a wireless network in an office environment needs proper planning and device management. An efficient wireless network, maximising bandwidth allocation and maintaining a decent quality of service will only be achieved through proper router configuration, monitoring and management. These nine tips will help clear a few cobwebs that interfere with the connection.
David Kelleher is a communications and research analyst at GFI Software. Follow him on Twitter @geleger.