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Tweak Your Wi-Fi

As I wrote in last week's post, I've recently been working on a project to build onto an existing campus infrastructure to resolve issues associated with the disparate networks, servers, and legacy voice systems in place. Connecting buildings with fiber paved the way to extend the Wi-Fi network. This is a good time for a reminder that Wi-Fi networks require a degree of attention, certainly when changes occur but even when not.

The concerns expressed for the campus were as follows:

  1. We transport devices to/from all buildings, and don't want to spend time reconnecting/signing in again. Additionally, as we move into our one-to-one initiative, we want to make sure the devices stay connected.
  2. Both the school and church have numerous outdoor activities, including major fundraising events that take place outdoors on the parking lots. We need Wi-Fi coverage for credit card machines.
  3. For school safety, we need to make sure Wi-Fi is available in areas that enable access/egress to public space. We want to make sure that staff smartphones have access to Wi-Fi in these areas at times when the cell signal is poor.
  4. Our maintenance facility needs coverage.

Adtran engineers reviewed the new rollout and the existing WLAN traffic, and then implemented their recommended changes:

  • Dynamic steering -- assists clients in selecting the 5-GHz frequency. This ensures that clients connect to the best radio based on their signal conditions, and improves client roaming from access point (AP) to AP
  • Minimum transmit rates -- this improves performance by alleviating clients connecting to APs with transmit rates under 6 Mbps. Clients that are too far from an AP slow down clients that are closer to the AP
  • Disabled legacy 802.11 b, since its use can contribute to the issue above

These changes proved effective, and all devices in all classrooms connected to the WLAN during several days of online testing with no drops or issues in connecting or staying connected.

A review of the Adtran ProCloud traffic reports shows that student traffic now accounts for more than 58% of all WLAN traffic. This is due to the addition of 48 Google Chromebooks supplementing the 50 Apple iPads and 25 MacBooks. Eventually, the school expects to have 225 to 250 Chromebooks in use.

Latency, sticky clients remaining on the same AP, and getting or staying connected are problems for many schools that have implemented Wi-Fi without solutions aimed at addressing these issues. Time spent waiting to connect is a deterrent to classroom instruction, and getting and staying connected is a requirement of this campus and many others.

The campus site plan will help determine placement of outdoor antennas to maximize coverage. Fiber is due in April 2018, and this symmetrical service will easily be able to support the bandwidth needs of the entire campus. Wi-Fi is not a set-it-and-forget-it service, and does need review to make sure that it's meeting the demands and needs of the organization.

In my previous post, I mentioned heat mapping and the benefits in knowing where to cable wireless access points. Heat mapping also depicts how RF will or won't saturate areas in a building. Campuses need to partner with companies that can provide both heat mapping and re-evaluation as a service. These capabilities are why, time and again, I roll with Adtran, which provides what you could call "value engineering" -- or just "good service." Either way, the service relationship makes the difference, and this is something that Adtran does do well for its clients.

WLANs are not static and given the right attention and set of services, clients can enjoy and continue to benefit from Wi-Fi access. Choose the right partner, get expert engineering, and then deploy what makes sense.

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