A Hotspot Does not a Wireless Network Make...

Blog Post created by jgaudin on Jun 15, 2010

but a host of rouge hotspots does a wireless network break.


Earlier this week at the WWDC conference for Apple during a live demonstration of the latest iPhone 4 capabilities, Steve Jobs experienced a "Wi-Fi meltdown" of epic proportions.  However, this is not a unique situation as there was also a demonstration failure of Google TV and from personal experience at many a conference wireless connectivity is problematic and as according to Murphy's Law at the worst possible time.  The tragedy is the network is both responsible and not responsible at the same time; responsible because it couldn't handle the load and adapt to the interference and not responsible because it was never designed and intended to handle the load and vast amount of available hotspots placed on it.


So what can be done?


First and foremost is planning.  Define the purpose and users of the network.  Understand and speculate worst case scenarios and build a foundation designed to support them.  Consider needed coverage and with the number of wi-fi enabled devices a single user may carry on them.  Far to often the network is an afterthought and planning is minimal with the belief that another box or two added to the network will fix everything.


Second is compare and select a wireless standard and with that it's best to select a single vendor.  This ensures that IT personnel are trained and often certified with the skills to administer and troubleshoot the network.  In an open environment such as a tradeshow you will find many different vendor products, but a single vendor foundation will provide a greater level of control and allow you to set the standard for the clients to access the network.


Finally do not discount the network and the services it has to offer.  You may be of the mindset that a network, especially one with a lot of activity, should be a big, fat, dumb pipe, but you'll find network-based services bring a lot of value such as:

  • RF spectrum analysis for automated adaption against radio frequency interference.  The main issue at the noted conferences.
  • Context aware services to locate WAPs and client devices, as well as deliver presence information which has endless possibilities in a mobile environment.
  • Security and policy services to ensure not only your wireless network is secure, but also protect the clients accessing it.  In the case of our WWDC example policies could have been implemented in the network that would have ensured a desired quality of experience for Mr. Jobs.


In closing, enterprise architecture is more then just design, it's strategy.  If you want best practices for designing a wireless network there are plenty of resources such as Cisco Validated Design guides for mobility  If you want a strategic wireless deployment, even if it's only for a short time, understand the capabilities you require, determine the best way to deploy, make available and administer those capabilities and bring in the expertise to roll them out the right way the first time so you can build upon them and extend them to deliver greater business value.


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