Make Your Network Ready for the WiFi Revolution

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These five components of a technology strategy can create and continuously optimize an enterprise-strength WiFi network.

By Shahid Ahmed

Creating a WiFi network in the workplace used to be a matter of making sure a few hotspots were available so employees could connect to the network from their laptops. Today, WiFi is far more critically important to enterprises across every industry.

Drivers include the increasing number of consumer WiFi devices being used in organizations, a growing number of new mobile applications, and the need to connect workers across offices, factories, shop floors and more. As a consequence, CIOs are challenged to create a truly enterprise-strength WiFi network—one that’s robust, scalable and secure.

Statistics and trends point to the growing importance of WiFi. In the United States, for example, WiFi connections account for more than 37 percent of digital traffic over mobile phones. And about 90 percent of Internet access from tablet computers is done via WiFi, not through a 3G or 4G network.

One key trend driving these changing usage patterns is the increased use of WiFi devices in the workplace. People now expect their personal mobile devices to be incorporated into the way they work, and they also count on readily available bandwidth for sending and receiving large data files. Increasing numbers of enterprise applications are also being delivered via WiFi.

In addition, WiFi solutions are becoming more prevalent beyond the office environment—in places such as industrial plants and mines. For example, Marathon Petroleum, working with Accenture, has implemented a solution that integrates WiFi, location-based technologies and small gas detectors worn on a jacket or shirt lapel to remotely monitor incidents involving their employees at a facility covering about 1,000 acres.

Fixed WiFi access points provide integrated wireless coverage for refinery units, and mobile WiFi access points installed in trucks provide flexible coverage for workers moving around larger areas. The mobile units are connected to Marathon’s central communications room by cellular networks. The WiFi solution gives workers a greater sense of confidence that their safety is being monitored and that rapid intervention can take place in the event of an emergency.

Strengthening Your WiFi Network

CIOs need to be proactive in deploying WiFi capabilities that help ensure that their people and businesses can effectively operate in an environment where continuous connectivity is essential and presumed. The following are important components of a technology strategy that can create and continuously optimize an enterprise-strength WiFi network.

1. Create a robust and scalable architecture.

With WiFi such an integral part of an organization’s overall IT infrastructure, it needs to be architected properly so that it can meet the demands of users, business units and locations. With so many devices coming into the workplace, the WiFi architecture must be able to scale quickly.

One common option is to use an architecture design with centralized control to manage the entire infrastructure. Centralized administration enables more effective management, minimizing the need for field services. An end-to-end architecture includes the following:

  • Intelligent access points—both indoor and outdoor—which enable important network functions such as interference mitigation, resource management and band selection.
  • A services component for critical network management, subscriber management and policy control. This delivers important scalability to the architecture, as it provides the flexibility to deploy, operate and manage networks with multiple access points.
  • A mobile packet core, which offers standards-based functionality for common subscriber management, policy and authentication, delivering transparent service integration to WiFi users.

This article was originally published on 2012-08-21
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