Evaluating Readiness to Support Wireless LANs, Part II

Evaluating Readiness to Support Wireless LANs, Part II

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Eric Geier

February 28, 2007

Make certain you have solid support plans and polices before you give a thumbs-up for that new wireless network.

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This tutorial continues the discussion of considerations (from Part I) to make when evaluating your current support system in order to prepare for the roll-out of your first major Wi-Fi network. Again, you should consider the following:

  • Education and experience
  • Management and support tools
  • Support structure
  • Polices
  • Backup plans
  • Technical coordination

The last four are discussed in this tutorial.

Support Structure

Your support structure should be modified to adapt to new problems and fixes that come up when operating a wireless LAN. You should define what issues related to the WLAN are distributed to each support team. You may also want to create or acquire flow charts or fault isolation trees to help identify how to response to and troubleshoot wireless networking performance and connectivity issues.

Here are many common issues you may run into:

  • Unable to establish a connection to the WLAN
  • Experiencing intermittent connections
  • Poor performance
  • RF interference from rogue APs or neighboring networks

You should keep these in mind when creating troubleshooting flow charts or when thinking about the structure of your helpdesk and support teams.

Create New Policies

To ensure the security of your new wireless LAN, you should create a few new policies, such as:

  • WLAN Operation Policy

This policy may require anyone installing access points (APs) to first have approval from a designated IT group, with specific installation and configuration guidelines. In addition, the policy may strictly forbid the connection of unauthorized APs to the corporate network.

  • Internal Wireless User Policy

This policy would define the rules regarding use of the wireless LAN by employees and staff, such as the restrictions of use and support information.

  • Public Wireless User Policy

If public access is given, you should create a user policy to inform users of the support you can provide and restrictions of the network’s use.

Create Backup Plans

WLANs communicate via radio waves, thus adding another potentially problematic element to the mix when compared with wired networks your company may already have installed. Additional problems wireless LANs face include RF interference from other wireless networks, interference from other non-Wi-Fi devices using the same frequency band, and intentional interference commonly termed as Denial of Service. In addition, the RF environment itself constantly changes. For example, the movement of people throughout the facility, the weather (in some cases), and changes in the building structure or office arrangements may affect the RF environment.

Due to the potential for failure, you should make a plan of what to do if the wireless network becomes unusable. For example, you may want to ensure all vital systems using the WLAN have an accessible connection to a wired Ethernet network for use when the wireless isn’t operational. Furthermore, carefully consider the dependence of critical systems or vital operations on your WLAN.

Coordinate Requirements

Ensure that the network support team understands the defined expectations and baseline standards of the wireless network, such as:

  • Signal-to-noise ratio
  • Throughput
  • Packet retries
  • Intended coverage areas

It’s crucial that administrators and technicians have an idea of the required and typical attributes of the WLAN, which can help when performing testing and troubleshooting.

Further Support Readiness Evaluation

In addition to taking the items discussed in these two tutorials under consideration, you may want to get outside help from an experienced consulting firm. A professional evaluation of your specific situation (based upon your current network, support structure and specific wireless technologies) will provide detailed feedback on your readiness to support a wireless network and advice on resolving any issues.

Eric Geier is the founder and president of Sky-Nets, Ltd., which operates a Wi-Fi hotspot network serving the general aviation community. He has also been a computing and wireless networking author and consultant for several years.  Eric’s latest book is Wi-Fi Hotspots: Setting up Public Wireless Internet Access, published by Cisco Press.

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