Everyone that is building a wireless network for the first time makes mistakes. Those mistakes can cost you, making your network unreliable or — at worst — unsafe. Some mistakes are common, but most are fixable with these clever solves.
Below is a list of five common rookie wireless mistakes that you are likely to encounter, either while building a new wireless network or while troubleshooting an existing one. These tips will hopefully show you how to go about fixing them, and ultimately how to avoid some of these traps altogether.
No Planning During Installation
Many businesses find that they grow in an organic, non-linear manner as they expand their operations, and in almost all cases, their IT infrastructure grows with them. This can often lead to WiFi expansions that are not as functional as they could be.
One of the biggest reasons why an ‘unplanned’ WiFi environment fails is inconsistency and non-uniformity of devices and configurations in the wireless environment. This would not be the case if everything was purchased, installed and configured at the same time, and by the same people or service provider.
When there is no planning involved in a WiFi project, things like Access Point placement and cabling fall by the wayside, meaning that units are not installed in the correct locations, and cables, power supplies, and switches are often left out in the open for all to see.
It is critical to identify project outcomes before the job begins and to know exactly what your main objectives are. This way there are no unexpected deviations from the plan, and anything that needs to be changed during the installation must be handled properly, with no shortcuts.
Insufficient Security Considerations
We all know that locking down a WiFi network can be annoying, especially if you have multiple devices that need to be enrolled onto the network each time the WiFi password changes or a new staff member with their own wireless devices joins the company. Unfortunately, we live in a time where IT security is just as critical to a business as the technology itself. Companies that have a vulnerable network are open to cyber-attacks and malware, which ultimately end up costing money.
One of the easiest ways that a cybercriminal can gain access to your network is through a poorly defended WiFi network. A wireless environment that is not adequately protected is the same as leaving a network point out in the street for anybody to plug their laptop into.
Luckily for us, there are many different security steps that can be implemented that will allow your WiFi network to fend off any unauthorized access to your network. Choosing the right level of encryption for your network is important, especially if you need to cater for legacy devices that are not capable of connecting to the newer protocols.
You will also need to decide how you are going to manage your wireless access, via an exclusion type model or by specifying users that can access your network. This can be done by creating a whitelist of known mac addresses that are allowed to access your network, or by manually blocking all unknown clients and granting access only after it has been requested and verified.
Bad WiFi Signal Quality or Coverage
This is not always a simple fix, unfortunately. While on the surface it seems like an easy way to remedy poor WiFi coverage is to simply keep adding Access Points until you have covered every square inch of your building, but it is not always possible, or practical, to do so.
Signal overlap from neighboring WiFi installations can also interfere with your signal quality, causing packet loss and signal drops, a highly annoying and disruptive issue that makes wireless devices drop off of the network intermittently, or time out while loading data over the WiFi. This can be especially baffling in some instances where the WiFi signal is full, yet the performance is excruciatingly slow and unreliable.
This can be solved by using a WiFi spectrum analyzer (like the one Keith Barker uses in his Network+ training) allowing you to graphically look at the different bands that are overlapping with your channel so that you can reconfigure and move your frequency over to another band. There are smartphone and laptop apps that will let you walk around your environment in real time so that you can identify and root out issues as you find them, so you won’t need to buy any fancy equipment for this task.
Signal issues can also be caused by signal interference (electrical or radio), thick walls, ceilings, and floors, as well as incorrect antenna selections for specific tasks. An omnidirectional antenna that is placed high above a warehouse floor makes little sense, and a directional antenna that is facing a wall is going to give you less than stellar results. Always make sure that you have the right access point and antennas for the job.
Deploying an army of WiFi devices into your environment without monitoring tools and central control is not a good idea at all. Anybody that has been stuck with separate devices that are not able to communicate to a central reporting tool will tell you that administering, troubleshooting, and access provisioning can be an absolute nightmare.
It is for these reasons that you should shop around before deciding on going with a specific brand, and always make sure that any management software or tools are compatible with your setup, and that you will not be charged an arm and a leg for software and licenses.
There are some excellent choices available on the market today, and many of them come with free software that allows you to keep tabs on client activity, total download and uploads over the WiFi segment of your network and much more.
This is also an excellent opportunity for you to keep tabs on anyone abusing the company’s internet, or by finding rogue wireless devices that have no business being on your network. You can easily block these hijackers through a simple to use interface that will give you far better control over your network than connecting to each access point individually.
SSID Visibility and Setup
It sounds strange to many people, but having a segmented WiFi network can really help to streamline your wireless workflow. Having a dedicated wireless network for mobile phones will allow you to route traffic through a specific interface on your firewall, giving your primary or secondary internet connection some breathing room.
Many, if not all modern access points will allow you to configure multiple SSIDs with their own IP address ranges and VLAN tags if necessary, allowing you to keep your network free of clutter and bad IP configurations.
Perhaps you have a wireless network that nobody should be connecting to, like factory equipment or your company’s executive staff and management. In these cases, you can hide the wireless network all together allowing only pre-configured devices to see and connect to them. This method also keeps prying eyes away from your network and offers you another valuable layer of security.
While it may sound like a bit of work, to begin with, it is often worthwhile making a list of any issues that you are currently experiencing on your current network. Identifying an issue is the first step to getting it resolved, so getting into the habit of assessing your setup at certain intervals is a good habit to get into.
There are many other issues that could be plaguing your network, but these are some good ones to get started on by looking at them. Of course, you could save yourself a lot of trouble by starting from scratch, but as we all know in this financially sensitive period, the funds for IT projects are not always available.
We hope that these tips can help you with your WiFi troubleshooting or WiFi project and that you are able to apply some of these techniques to your wireless network.
Learn more about how to build a wireless network from CBT Nuggets trainer Jeremy Cioara with his new course, IT Expertise: Building and Configuring a Business Wireless Network.