Over the past few years, Wi-Fi technology has improved greatly, however it isn’t a case of one-size fits all. The requirements for a business in a large office space with continual traffic utilisation from many devices is very different to the Wi-Fi needed at home for casual internet access.
What is an Access Point?
An Access Point (AP) is a device that broadcasts a wireless signal that can be used by wireless clients to access network services. Where a wired local area network is referred to as a LAN, a wireless local area network is named a WLAN. An access point provides the wireless point of entry into a wired network so the wireless devices can consume services such as VoIP, internet, email and other services.
How does wireless signal work?
The best way to think of a wireless AP sending out a signal is to imagine a light bulb illuminating a room. When choosing a location for a light bulb the best pace is on the ceiling where the light can reach the whole room without been blocked by people walking by or static objects like book cases or tables in the way. If the light bulb were to be installed on a coffee table or behind the TV, shadows would be cast around the room causing dark areas. The same is true for wireless, if an AP is not installed in the right place, shadows or dead spots of wireless will be created.
What is a wireless range extender?
As the name suggests, a range extender receives the wireless signal from the access point and re-transmits it or boosts the signal strength to allow for extended wireless coverage. As a range extender must receive a signal to be re-transmitted, they must be installed in a location with adequate wireless strength and performance from the wireless access point.
Standalone vs central managed
2 types of wireless APs exist; stand alone & centrally managed.
Generally priced cheaper than a centrally managed access point, standalone APs are best suited for home use or a small business with 1 location. Each access point is unaware of any other APs in the network. This means when a wireless client reaches the edge of the wireless coverage from the AP they are connected to, the client doesn’t know it can connect (roam) to another wireless AP that is providing coverage. Usually the client will remain connected to the initial wireless access point even when the signal is poor and there is a better option – this is called sticky client. Each wireless AP must be configured and maintained separately which over time increases cost of ownership. With multiple standalone AP’s deployed, there is no capability to control which APs are used, the result is usually one or two AP’s being overloaded whist others have little to no use.
Usually priced higher then stand alone APs, centrally managed or thin APs require a central controller to manage them – this can be physical, virtual or cloud. This type of access point cannot usually operate without the central controller (some exceptions apply), as such the APs are considered as radio units only. The central controller makes all of the decisions such as which AP a client should connect to, as the wireless client moves around the wireless controller can ‘roam’ the client between APs without the client knowing its connection has moved. If additional wireless coverage is required, an AP can be added to the system and quickly provisioned. Centrally managed AP’s overcome the overloading problems as the controller is aware how many devices are connected to each AP and can balance clients across APs.
Home vs Business use
Whilst range extenders are sometimes suitable for home wireless networks, they are not suitable for business needs. Due to the fact a range extender has to receive a signal & re-transmit it, this makes them suitable for only a small number of connected users. The added receive & transmit of data from a range extender usually decreases available bandwidth as more users connect.
Most home access points are built into a router or modem with the wireless capability being ‘stand alone’. Internet circuits entering the home at a certain point, the modem/router is usually located here meaning this is where the wireless signal comes from. In many cases this is not an ideal location eg, under a window, in a hall way, or next to a kitchen work top. The result is the wireless coverage at the home is likely limited.
In a business environment, the internet connection is usually installed in a communications room or cabinet and connected into a router or modem to manage the internet access. The use of AP’s allows wireless to be extended through the building. Technology such as Power over Ethernet (PoE) and central wireless control means all of the deployed APs can be powered and managed from one central place.
There are many other factors that impact a wireless deployment; including interference from other wireless & sources and building material. In summary, it is important to seriously consider the right wireless deployment in a business, in many cases the cheapest option is not the best – even if it will work to start with. Consideration should be given to expansion, future use, management, maintenance and use cases.
Lucidity provide Managed Network Services and Managed Network Devices, as well as the consultancy skills for designing the network, taking all of the above into account. Wireless is an important piece in the puzzle, but it is important you take a high level holistic overview when designing your network. If you are thinking about taking your business network to the next level, contact Lucidity today to be put in touch with one of our network consultants.