The Wi-Fi market is forecast to grow from $6 billion in 2017 to $16 billion by 2022, driven by the relentless use of smartphones and other wireless devices, and the move away from wired networks.
Small businesses are contributing to the growth by letting their workforce use their own devices, offering access to customers, and improving business operations by using wireless connected devices such as sensors and cameras.
Small businesses want to deliver good quality of experience for all users as easily and cheaply as possible, but that isn’t always straightforward.
A survey commissioned by Linksys found that many small businesses were using Wi-Fi equipment that was over 8 years old, meaning it’s unlikely to cope with consistent heavy usage, fast throughput or security threats.
Interference from other Wi-Fi access points or other wireless services such as cell towers causes performance problems.
Building layout or construction materials can case reception dead spots.
Some Wi-Fi kit is complicated and needs vendor support for basic management and administration.
Most small business will need several access points to cover their real estate but what seems to be the best placement location can mean the distance is too great for the equipment and performance suffers.
Some businesses use consumer grade products because they have a lower price tag and are easier to install and maintain. But, in reality, they're not able to cope with business demands and are likely to freeze or completely fail, leaving the business with an immediate problem.
The biggest challenge is the need for predictable and reliable high performance. The latest Wi-Fi standard - 802.11ac Wave 2 – offers the promise of gigabit performance and can theoretically reach 2.34GBPS, so it makes sense, for future proofing as well as performance reasons, to buy products that support it.
The Netgear Orbi Pro is one such product, and has been built with triband to allow more devices to be supported. It also uses mesh networking to let multiple routers - a primary and satellites work together and avoid dead spots. Their AC3000 router can cover a site of 5,000 square feet, and up to 10,000 with two add-on satellites.
The 802.11ac standard also supports multi user, multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO), meaning the wireless spectrum is used more efficiently when multiple devices are connected.
Another way of improving performance is to use wired networks for devices that don’t need Wi-Fi, printers or desk-based PCs for example.
Small businesses that want to offer Wi Fi to customers or other guests should have a separate network to protect corporate data and limit performance impact on their day to day operations. It also makes it much easier to monetize the Wi Fi service through time-based access or subscription plans.
Separate networks can also be set up for general employee use, administrators, and for connected smart sensors or other net enabled devices such as cameras.
The Orbi Pro is shipped with three pre-defined networks.
Unplanned increases in user numbers can quickly bring the network to its knees, so take time to consider what headroom is needed. How many people will access the wireless network? From where? and for what purpose? You need an access point that maximizes capacity without sacrificing range.
Again, 802.11ac, as the most recent standard, offers some comfort for future proofing.
Configuration changes, software upgrades, adding, removing or moving users between access points to improve performance all need to be done quickly and changes applied concurrently across the network. Cisco's Meraki cloud controller lets administrators manage indoor and outdoor wireless points, giving them visibility of performance and allowing remote deployment of patches. It can also be configured to optimise bandwidth usage automatically and send problem alerts.
Some Wi-Fi equipment can be installed and supported from a simple mobile app meaning you don’t need to be on site to diagnose and resolve some problems.
There’s good reasons for small business to increase their use of wireless networks, and with some forward thinking you can avoid problems that could make it a burden instead of a benefit.