Over the past decade, wireless networks progressed rapidly and embedded itself to our daily lives. With Wi-Fi in our homes, at work, shopping malls and restaurants, it is easy to stay connected to the internet without cabling. Unsurprisingly, there is more to wireless networks than just obtaining the Wi-Fi password. Advanced technologies and systems operate endlessly behind the scenes to make our wireless society work. Nowadays, every business needs to consider their network needs and
You need to consider the additional hardware There are many devices and wired connections involved in a wireless network. Different businesses require different wireless solutions.
Today’s market offers many different wireless communication technologies and equipment. Yet wireless networks also have many limitations as well. The point being, building a wireless network for your business is not as easy as you think. This article will walk you through all the good, bad and the ugly and about wireless networks for businesses. After reading this article, it will certainly shorten your research and deployment time of wireless networks.
Benefits of Wireless Networks
Before we going to the details, it is necessary to discuss all the pros and cons of wireless networks. There are many obvious ones, but there are many hidden ones which most people do not know. In the next two sections, we will talk about the benefits and limitations of wireless networks.
Today’s society is moving at a very fast pace. In a business environment, fast operation speed can help a business to thrive among competitors. It is more convenient to use wireless connections anywhere in your office or anywhere in the world to conduct business rather than looking for internet ports to plug in your computer every time you move your location.
It is difficult to manage Ethernet cables’ quality and performance when you have too many of them. Too many exposed wires increase the chance of people tripping over them. In a wireless environment, you don’t have these concerns.
Flexible Accessibility and Scalability
Wireless technology allows you to stay connected when you are on the move. It provides a flexible accessibility. Businesses today rely on internet and computers. Wireless connections enable more flexibilities that were not possible in the past. It makes working-from-home becoming a reality.
On the other hand, you can easily add dozens of new devices using wireless technology when you expand your business. If you need to add even more devices, you just need to add a new access point. Wireless routers these days are more intelligent as well. Instead of all devices using an equal amount of bandwidth, routers can intelligently adjust resources depending on the applications through the network. Therefore, from deployment and operation standpoints, it is easier and more flexible to support more devices using wireless technology.
Wireless networks allow businesses to offer new services or opportunities. For example, businesses such as hotels, cafes and restaurants offer 'hot spot' Wi-Fi services to the public. When you are travelling, you are more likely to book hotels that have free Wi-Fi rather than no Wi-Fi at all.
Limitations of Wireless Networks
Wireless signals transmit through open air. Using wireless communications always runs the risk of exposing your network activity to attacks by unauthorized users or signal hijackers. It is also difficult to monitor those unauthorized accesses when you do not have a professional firewall. Even you have a good network security firewall installed, you still need to change your access password and keep your software up to date constantly. This is one of the main downsides of using a wireless network.
Wireless signals are sensitive to interference as well. Wireless signals also cannot travel through concrete walls. Microwave ovens or neighboring companies’ Wi-Fi signal can interfere with your wireless signal. If your company has many individual office rooms with walls, wireless signal strength will suffer. All these factors will lead to poor connection or even signal dead zones. Adding more access points
Wireless signal cannot travel forever in space. As a matter of fact, our Wi-Fi signal can only travel about 45 meters when there are no concrete walls. To cover larger areas, business often need to use access points to extend signal coverage. Each wireless access point requires at least one Ethernet cable connection, which introduces more installation difficulties.
Transmission speeds and signal stability
Everyone has experienced either a slow wireless connection speed, or a weak signal. Unfortunately, that is the nature of our current wireless technology. Overall, a simple wired connections will be significantly more stable and faster than any wireless technology available right now. Ironically, you can’t have a wireless connection without ethernet cabling. Unlike cellphones, your router or access point still needs a physical connection to internet service provider to get a connection. Network cabling remains the backbone of the majority of businesses today. Current wireless technology won’t replace your building’s ethernet or fiber networks anytime soon.
Components for Wi-Fi
Obviously, even though wireless signals travel through the air and is seemingly available everywhere, you still need a source. Its also interesting to note that wireless signals do not travel forever either. To create a comprehensive wireless network, you need to consider all the hardware to generate, transmit and process signals. This section will introduce all the key components of a typical Wi-Fi network, their benefits and limitations.
As mentioned before, wireless networks still require wired connections. Internet today depends on cables or telephone lines infrastructures through communities. Before you even connect the internet to your facility and before you deploy any network devices, you need a modem to translate analog signals to digital signals. The reason is that all your network devices like computers or security cameras only understand digital signals. On the other hand, telephone lines can only transmit analog signals. A modem is a necessary device that can covert the analog signals to digital and vice versa.
Likewise, internet can also go through television cables and satellites. In this scenario, Digital subscriber line (DSL) modems only work with telephone lines. Cable modems work with TV networks and satellite modems, of course, work with satellites. Your network service providers usually loans you a corresponding modem that works with their network. However, internet operators usually offer refurbished modems with inferior quality. For businesses, It is much more beneficial to acquire your own modem to get better performance. So, please check the type of the modem before purchase.
Technically, you can directly connect any network devices like a computer to a modem, and then start using the internet. However, this requires a wired connection. Plus, one modem usually has a limited number of physical ports for wired connections. To enable wireless connection and deliver the internet to many more devices, you will need a wireless router.
Generally speaking, a router is a device that directs data packets from the external internet to designated devices within its network. This process can be through a wired or wireless connection, so we have wired routers and wireless routers. Normally, businesses need both for different types of devices and applications. For Wi-Fi connections, obviously, you will need a wireless router.
Depending on the technology and the manufacturer, Wi-Fi routers capacity could vary between 20 to 50 devices. At the 2.4 GHz frequency band, their coverage is around 45 meters. Whilst, using the 5 GHz band, you can only get about 15 meters range. Interestingly, 2.4 GHz continues to be the more popular band despite 5 GHz band offering 2 to 3 times faster speeds. Currently, Wi-Fi 6E is the latest technology in the market, however, be sure to be on the lookout for Wi-Fi 7 routers for 2023!
Access Points & range extenders
As mentioned earlier, a single Wi-Fi router only has and effective range of about 45 meters. So, if your facility has spaced longer than 45 meters or has many walls between rooms, one Wi-Fi router is certainly not enough. On top of that, a single Wi-Fi router can only handle a handful of devices at once. Ideally, there should not be a connection loss for any of your uses. So, when you are looking to deploy a Wi-Fi router in your business, you need to account for the number of users, whether your users are moving around and the layout of your building.
Luckily, you are not limited to a single Wi-Fi router. An easy solution to bypass a router’s limitations is by installing access points and/or range extenders. A range extender usually refers to devices which can extend coverage through wireless connections. That means you need to deploy range extenders at locations which already have strong wireless signals and then try to extend that range further. Access points or APs extend router coverage by using wired Ethernet cables to routers.
For an office setting, access points are much more common than extenders. First, APs can handle 3 times of traffic than wireless extenders. Also, when it comes to mobility, access points are a clear winner. APs form one large wireless local area network or WLAN. Therefore, if you are moving from one end of your company to another, you will feel no disruption in your connection whatsoever. On the other hand, Wi-Fi extenders form many sub-Wi-Fi networks. So, when you move, you certainly will experience interruptions.
Wireless range extenders have one small advantage is that they don’t need any wires. You can plug an extender directly to a power outlet on the wall. If your office is small and you don’t like wires, using one or a few extenders is a reasonable option. APs, on the other hand, require wires. Luckily, APs usually have power over Ethernet or PoE feature, which means you only need one Ethernet cable behind each access point to connect them to your router. This way, you can extend your Wi-Fi signal to different floors or different buildings that are close to each other. Therefore, places like universities, hospitals, hotels, shopping centers, or condos, you are more likely to see those thin devices mounted on the ceiling. Those are all Wi-Fi access points.
Types of Wireless Connections
When it comes to network connections, you will often see terms like LAN, PAN, MAN, WAN. What exactly do they stand for? More importantly, why they are important and how are they implemented to your business? In general, the major difference between these terms is the network size. Each system has their specific use cases, advantages, and complications. This section will discuss their definitions and their applications in a business domain.
Personal Area Network or PAN, is as simple as when you connect your Bluetooth headset to your mobile phone or computer. Overall, this connection is strictly between the headset and the device. Unsurprisingly, has multiple applications for businesses. You might even be using it right now! PAN is the best option if you want to have a very secure connection between only two devices. For PAN connections, you can expect high communication speeds with no interruptions due to the direct connection between the devices. This also has the added benefit of being difficult to hack.
Local Area Network or LAN is when you have a group of devices connected to each other on a single network. In a business setting, you can form a LAN network when you connect all your devices to a single router via ethernet or Wi-Fi. These devices can range from computers, printers, surveillance cameras and IP phones all making up the local area network. This is useful for businesses with multiple employees and devices, as it allows direct communications between devices on the same LAN network. For example, setting up a shared network folder between employees on a local network is simpler than connecting to devices outside the network. As a result, LAN networks are the most common and the most practical network structure for most businesses.
A Wide Area Network or WAN network connects multiple LANs through private or public connections over much longer distances, even across the globe! If your business has multiple offices in different cities or countries, WAN is the network you need to construct. Normally, governments, military and large international companies use private network connections for security reasons. Other companies need to rely on public network infrastructures. This means you need to pay for internet services at every location where you have an office. Your connection speed will be slower than private connections, and your network security can be a concern as well. Nevertheless, using a public WAN still might be more practical and easier than running your own cables between cities or even continents.
Metropolitan Area Network or MAN is a high-speed private network that consists of one or more dedicated point-to-point links, between multiple locations. Similar to WAN, metropolitan area network connects multiple LAN networks. The key difference is that MAN is limited to multiple buildings in the same area, a single city or even small, nearby towns. As such, it is common for MAN networks to be interconnected via wired cabling like fiber optic. If your business has multiple locations, but does not extend nationally or internationally, a MAN network is a valuable solution to your network. Furthermore, instead of using the public network services at each location, this connection is more secure. Since the connection is direct and wired, the speed is also very high. This architecture allows you to manage all your surveillance cameras at different locations centrally. If one of your locations has an intruder, your security footage is at an off-site location and secure.
Simply put, instead of using copper cables or fiber cables to connect LAN networks together, we could use Airfiber to connect LANs through the air. It uses 24GHz license-free band to transmit data at over 1 Gbps rate. Airfiber can carry data to travel from 10 km to over 200 km range over the air.
From a business standpoint, instead of paying internet service providers a monthly subscription fee to transmit data through their established cable networks over long distance, with Airfiber, you can plug and play. You only need to buy the hardware equipment once and then use license-free air bands to transmit your data over a long distance for free forever.
In terms of business use cases, applying Airfiber is best for businesses with more than one facility yet are far apart from each other. If the two facilities are next door to each other, you can simply use cables, which is a cheapest option. If your two business facilities are more than hundreds of meters apart and do not want to pay for separate internet access or a wired solution is difficult to deploy, Airfiber benefits your business the most.
Conversely, for businesses with multiple locations like restaurants, clinics, or hotels in the same city, one internet access is more than enough to support all your locations’ internet activities. It is a waste of resources to pay for internet access for each one of your new offices. What you can do instead is that each branch or each LAN can install their own Airfiber. You only need one fast internet access at one of your locations, which could be your headquarters. This headquarters can share its internet through wireless Airfiber connections. This way, you are forming your own MAN network wirelessly.
As mentioned earlier, all Wi-Fi routers have traffic and range limitations. Depending on the size and operation of your business, you could have many options. To future-proof your network, it is better to make sure your router has at least Wi-Fi 6 capability with dual bands (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) support and advanced security features.
The 2.4 GHz band can penetrate walls and other materials better than 5GHz band, making it the best option for larger coverage. All devices that support Wi-Fi should at least support the 2.4GHz band. The 5GHz band operates at a higher frequency, which does not penetrate obstacles well, but it transfers data at a much faster speed than 2.4GHz band. Most advanced devices support this band as well. Therefore, supporting dual bands provides much more flexibilities for businesses.
Wi-Fi 6 routers have much more intelligent resource management protocols, which allows them to handle 3 or 4 times of the traffic of Wi-Fi 5 routers. With dual bands support, one Wi-Fi 6 router can comfortably handle 30 to 50 devices with fast internet access.
Wi-Fi 7 Considerations
At the time of writing this article, Wi-Fi 6 is still the latest and mainstream wireless tech available. Regardless, technology continues to improve and in 2023, we might see the adoption of Wi-Fi 7. In fact, companies like TP-Link are already trying to get ahead in Wi-Fi 7 adoption with their new line of routers aimed to advantage of the 7th Gen tech. If you are in no rush to upgrade your wireless network and you want the latest and greatest, it might be wise to wait to get more futureproofing. Overall, Wi-Fi 7 aims to build on the improvements brought on by Wi-Fi 6E. There will be faster speeds, 6 GHz bands (in addition to 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), even better optimization, lower latency for your devices, and wider data bandwidth channels.
Access Points Requirements
To extend your Wi-Fi coverage, you need access points in your network. Feature wise, access points also need to support Wi-Fi 6 and dual bands. This way you can really maximize your router capability to support hundreds of devices and coverage larger areas.
One other feature for access points you need to keep in mind is power over Ethernet (PoE). Most use cases, many offices do not want to have one Ethernet data cable and one power cable for every access point.
However, access points that do not have PoE features are usually much more powerful, thanks to the additional power input. They can handle much more traffic and cover much larger space. These are usually outdoor access points. The most common use cases for outdoor Wi-Fi access points are sport stadiums, public parking lots, warehouses, and shopping centers. If your use case requires covering large open areas, either indoor or outdoor, these more powerful access points are a good option.
Access points placement
Access points placement could be the most complex task during the installation process. It varies depending on the facility type and business type. If you only want to cover a large open space, like a in a warehouse, you can deploy access points evenly across your facility. However, most businesses are not like that. Different offices have different layouts. Different areas in the same company may have different device densities. Doing a site survey is the best way and the most essential step for access points placements.
Normally, one access point can cover a space up to 1000 square feet. For meeting rooms with solid walls or areas where you expect to have much more traffic, it makes more sense to deploy one dedicated access point for each one of those areas.
It is not a good idea to place access points too close to each other. In that case, you are not only wasting hardware resources but also increase the chances of creating wireless signal dead zones, because all access points operate at the same frequency, and they could cancel each other.
If you implement all the hardware and installation tips suggested above, your wireless network can easily handle hundreds of devices with only a handful of access points. If you want to upscale your business, you can either add more access points or just duplicate the whole network to create another LAN.
Wireless Network Business Use Cases and Applications
The most common use case of wireless network is to support business operation. These days and age, no business can operate normally without a stable internet access, regardless of what kind of business you are running. You need the internet to receive and process payment. You need the internet to communicate with your vendors and customers. Your employees rely on a stable network to transmit and store data. Surveillance system requires stable network connections to keep your business safe. The list goes on.
All the applications mentioned above have wireless solutions these days. There are wireless point-of-sale or POS machines, wireless printers, wireless IP phones, and wireless security cameras. All modern laptops have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built in these days. Most use cases rely on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology to create the connection between devices and the internet. As mentioned in the first section, wireless networks provide a great deal of flexibility.
Free guest Wi-Fi, good or bad?
Many businesses offer free Wi-Fi or hotspots these days. It certainly has its appeal. Many people think if they are free, they must be good. That is not necessarily true.
From a technical standpoint, as mentioned before, when there are so many businesses offering free Wi-Fi signals everywhere, these signals will have interference with each other. Since they are using the same frequency, at certain points in space, they will cancel each other. These are Wi-Fi blind spots or dead zones. Usually, users would experience very weak connections or no signal at all. This could interfere with your actual business wireless signal, which will slow down your normal business operations. It is like giving away free food when you are still hungry yourself.
From a security standpoint, it introduces a very high-level of threat to users. As mentioned before, wireless signals transmit through open air. Anyone who hijacks and decodes your signal will be able to know all your online activities. That includes your name, address, contact information, banking information, or even confidential documents you transmitted.
For example, when you are at a public café, an airport, or a shopping center, a hacker can create a fake public internet access to attract people who want to use free Wi-Fi. The hacker can see and log anything on this network. So, everyone who used this network, all their information, is completely visible to this hacker. To avoid legal liability from cyber-attacks, not offering free Wi-Fi seems a wise idea.
From a business standpoint, offering free Wi-Fi is a good way to gather more people for business. For coffee shops, clinics, or subway stations, when people are waiting for their service, it is good to have Wi-Fi access to keep people engaged and entertained. However, it might not be true for every business everywhere. You wouldn’t like people only to come to use your free Wi-Fi and not buying anything.
It is hard to tell if people are here to use Wi-Fi or not. So, in this case, it is wise to do a site survey on the internet traffic. If you can justify the business benefits of offering free Wi-Fi, then it is fine to keep offering. If your internet traffic is increasing but your sales are staying flat or decreasing, then it no longer makes sense to offer Wi-Fi. You may want to consider changing your free guest Wi-Fi policy.
One last possible scenario, some hotels these days offering both free and paid tiers Wi-Fi. The free Wi-Fi is slow and insecure, but the paid tier can be much faster and more secure. It could be a very good business model to bringing in more revenues for hotels. It is also an applicable use case for condos, but not many other businesses.
Once again, we are moving towards a wireless world. You need to upgrade your network towards the latest and the best performing wireless network. There will be a lot of work. No matter what business you are operating, a wireless network will bring you more flexibility. To keep your wireless network stable and secure, please call Panopticon Solutions at 4166138828 to book your consultation appointment today.