Preparing for a Wireless Network – infrastructure design and installation

Implementing a wireless network can be a straightforward and painless process, it just requires an appropriate level of planning.  Wi-Fi networks are typically added on to existing wired infrastructure to allow for internet /network connection.  This means that the underlying network topology will remain the same, although it may need to be up-scaled if the Wi-Fi network is being installed to accommodate an increase in traffic, rather than just to provide an alternative means of accessing a company network. 

Start by putting the right team in place

Obviously the IT team will be the linchpin of the implementation, but it should always be remembered that the proposed network is to serve the needs of the business and to ensure this happens it is very advisable to have representation from other areas of the business, at least from business area managers.  If they are kept in the loop at the very least they can take ownership of keeping their teams informed.

Create a project roadmap based on the following criteria

On site surveys

At this point, it's worthwhile recapping what Wi-Fi actually is.  Wi-Fi is based on radio technology.  Because Wi-Fi signals are transmitted through the atmosphere, they need to be powerful enough to cope with interference from various sources, in particular weather and other Wi-Fi networks.  Signals work best in clear spaces and while they can generally withstand minor obstacles, such as lamp-posts (albeit usually weakened), they do not normally have enough strength to transmit through very thick walls, metal concrete or metal and do not bend around corners. 

IT team canvas users

By the time you come to the planning stage, the IT team should have already carried out usage questionnaires with employees to determine how they are likely to use the network. The results of this can then be used to decide what security and software measures will have to be implemented. This is especially with regard to BYOD, as it’s likely there will be a large variety of handsets and tablets that require managing.

Develop the system architecture

This should encompass everything from the mobile devices which can/will be used, to the servers with which they will ultimately connect and the support services which will keep everything running smoothly.

It’s also worth bearing in mind how future proof your network is likely to be. We all know that technology moves at an incredible pace, so ask your engineers about the lifespan of the network. These are generally somewhere between 5-10 years and the physical infrastructure makes up the backbone of the organization’s IT network.

At the moment, there are a few things to consider:

·         Likelihood of physical infrastructure being deployed to the cloud

·         Bandwidth and how high it’s likely to reach, especially if collaboration and streaming video will be widely used

Although it may be tempting to design the infrastructure and then look for devices which fit into it, it’s usually better to start with the mobile devices and work backwards.  The reason for this is that the mobile devices are going to be the end-users' gateway to the network and for the project to be a long-term success, it is crucial that these devices are as close a fit to their needs as they can be. 

Begin the RFP process

While price alone should never be the deciding factor, it's worth making a point of explicitly checking for extra costs such as training, consultancy, support and further development work.  You will need to decide if you want the entire contract handled by one provider or if you are happy to split it between different providers for each aspect of the service.

Look for a network provider

Again price alone is not a reliable guide to service.  Look for coverage (quality as well as quantity), speed, reliability capacity, latency and flexibility as well as quality support.

Test your solution thoroughly

Thoroughly means in the field as well as in the lab.  It means having a clear test plan which details what needs to be tested and how and the minimum standards for the test to be considered a success.  It also means being prepared to refine and retest for as long as is necessary until these requirements are met. 

Testing should include:

·         Heavy traffic

·         Challenging conditions (weather/interference)

·         Speed

·         Reliability (soak testing)

·         Ability to reroute (in the event of component failure)

·         Functionality and usability testing.

Create, document and publish policies of use.

While much of the acceptable usage policy will follow on from the documents which have already been created for your wired network, the nature of mobile devices is such that it is likely to be worth updating them.  In particular, users will need to be reminded of the security implications relating to the misuse of mobile devices.  If you intend to operate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment, then it’s crucial that users understand clearly how their personal devices will be integrated into the network and also that although they may own the device, they do not own the data.

Check that your asset management policy caters for mobile devices

It’s sad, but probably true, to say that if you plan to hand out mobile devices to your employees, unless they’re sure that these will be effectively tracked, at least some of them will disappear.

Prepare self-service support

Limit your support calls by making sure there are plenty of self-help options readily available in an obvious place.

Prepare for successful deployment

If issuing mobile devices, ensure that all devices are equipped with all necessary software and correctly configured.  Register them with the network provider and test each device before handing it out to ensure it is working as intended.  When the users are given the devices, make sure they are given training on how to use them.

Go live with pilot users

Monitor their progress and if need be make adjustments before full roll out.