Business wi-fi coverage: How firms can plug the gaps

Don't think in terms of desks, zones or hotspots but of blanket coverage...

...around desks and traditional work spaces. They want to access and share information with colleagues in the corridors, outside the buildings, in the staff cafeteria and even in less IT-friendly locations, such as the toilets. Since this access is a large element of the informal and collaborative appeal of this class of device, there will be pressure on IT to provide network coverage.

On top of these issues, the variety of applications being run on all other devices - from desktops and laptops to smartphones - is more demanding of bandwidth and, with growth in voice and video traffic over IP, becoming more sensitive to latency.

Increasing demand for wireless capacity

While fast wired networks to ports on the desk might have once taken the load, more mobile users are increasing the demand for capacity in wireless networks, and satisfying this demand typically requires a redeployment with newer and faster access points.

One way to tackle this issue without incurring massive costs is to take a more holistic approach to the issue of providing network access. IT should no longer think in terms of desks, zones or hotspots but of a blanket of coverage. Such coverage needs to be formed from wired and wireless points, complete indoor as well as outdoor, and different iterations of 802.11 standards all treated as part of the same network, rather than separate silos of access and control.

Network vendors, especially some from a traditionally wi-fi camp, are starting to adopt this approach with their new product announcements. So those responsible for providing network access for employees should look to those who can offer mixed and hybrid environments, with seamless access for the user and seamless management for themselves.

The cost reductions, or at least containment, from this type of approach can come from several budgets, involving technical aspects such as reducing the need for cabling as well as facilities issues such as reducing the need for office space.

Already deployed wireless networks

It could also work out well for those who have already deployed wireless networks based on the older standards, such as 802.11g, but are now looking to provide faster networks based on 802.11n to cope with the increased demand for network performance.

While faster wireless networks will be required in all primary working spaces, as the load shifts from wired ports to wireless access points, simply providing blanket coverage will generally be sufficient in the gaps frequented by passing tablet users. This coverage could readily be accomplished by redeploying older access points in those lower traffic locations as they are replaced by faster ones in the high-traffic areas.

Although this approach involves overlapping networks, it should result in no loss of service, providing vendors are selected carefully for their ability to play nicely and integrate and span the different network types without introducing silos or gaps in either coverage or management systems.

As tablets continue to encourage informal in-office mobility, more organisations are going to find their network infrastructure needs to evolve to keep pace.

Quocirca is a user-facing analyst house known for its focus on the big picture. Made up of experts in technology and its business implications, the Quocirca team includes Clive Longbottom, Bob Tarzey, Rob Bamforth and Louella Fernandes. Their series of columns for seeks to demystify the latest jargon and business thinking.

By Rob Bamforth

Rob Bamforth is a principal analyst at user-facing analyst house Quocirca. As part of the Quocirca team, which focuses on technology and its business implications, Bamforth specialises in communication, collaboration and convergence.