The 802.11n protocol vastly improves upon previous 802.11 standards by giving the user the capability to provide voice and video over IP using Wi-Fi. It also allows for denser coverage across many different applications because with its much greater throughput, 802.11n can service many more users per AP.
Given these benefits, it is likely that any upgrade to 11n will involve a significant WLAN redesign, so it is very important to look at the entire lifecycle for developing and expanding your WLAN. Listed below are the three major phases for implementing and updating your 802.11n system so that it will reach its full potential.
Phase 1: Network Design and Requirements
When designing your WLAN there are four key areas to address before you even consider any hardware purchases.
1. Define the applications that users are going to expect to access via Wi-Fi. Pay attention not just to the type of application, but also the data loads and expected response times, and pay particular attention to applications that use real-time protocols like VoIP or Video over IP which require priority routing over Wi-Fi using QoS (quality of service).
2. Think about where you want to place your access points and the type of environment they’ll be located in – office space, warehouse, retail, etc. Will they be sealed or inconspicuous? Also, assess the “background noise” in your environment within the frequency range you expect to use.
3. How will your physical layout and networking needs affect the type of equipment you’ll need? Thin APs with a central controller or stand-alone APs that interoperate with each other? Traditional multi-channel cell layout or a managed single channel deployment? Your physical layout may dictate the need for directional antennas in some areas, like building corners, where you’d like to contain your WLAN delivery within your physical space and benefit from the added range of a directional antenna.
4. Use a WLAN planning tool to translate your requirements into a proposed hardware layout and design. As WLAN networks grow, deploying APs by the seat of your pants is no longer an option. WLAN planning tools do an excellent job proposing AP placement as well as recommending specific AP hardware that may be needed to meet your unique requirements. If you have an existing WLAN, use the planning tool to verify your current network coverage and performance before planning any expansion.
Phase 2: Deployment and Verification
Once you’ve designed your network and deployed your new hardware, you need to verify whether your setup matches what you originally specified. Again, your WLAN planning tool can be used, this time to perform a site survey of what you’ve deployed to compare with your design. Here’s a really quick checklist to help you take all factors into account:
• Ensure coverage
• Verify performance (network throughput)
• Check and correct AP configurations
• Test end-to-end network operation
Once this is complete, you will have an accurate picture of how well your actual deployment meets your requirements, and you will have the data you need to make any modifications.
Phase 3: Management, Troubleshooting, and Expansion
Now we have the most important phase of all, dealing with the day-to-day issues of active users on your WLAN. This requires proactive management, the ability to troubleshoot your distributed WLAN network, and the capability to easily expand your WLAN as demand grows and new applications are introduced. Management requires software with simple dashboard views that show you the current status of your network and provide alerts when your design parameters are violated. Troubleshooting requires the ability to sniff packets anywhere in your wireless network for detailed protocol analysis. You can typically find a single software solution that meets both these needs. For expansion, you can return to your trusty WLAN planning software, which already includes your current design, and do a little “what if” to see how network expansion can address the growing demand that is sure to come from such a robust, well designed, and well managed WLAN!