6 mistakes to avoid when setting up your small business wireless network
By Paul Mah
Mobile devices are now as essential to workplaces as copy machines and coffee makers. That means a fast, reliable wireless network is essential as well. But building one isn’t as simple as plugging in your ISP-supplied router and connecting your smartphone. In fact if you’ve never done it before, putting together a Wi-Fi network robust enough to support your business can be pretty tricky. To shorten the learning curve, we’ve highlighted some common pitfalls and how to avoid them.
Overloading the wireless router
It’s common to start with an entry-level wireless router when setting up your network. But as the business grows and high-throughput appliances such as NAS or IP cameras get added into the mix, many consumer grade routers get overloaded by the heavy usage.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell ahead of time if an off-the-shelf wireless router is up to the task of running your small business network. If you do experience unexplained slowness, one solution is to set up a standalone network switch and wireless access point. Offloading some clients to the access point will reduce burden on your router’s processor, while a new gigabit ethernet switch will increase your local network’s speed.
Under provisioning your Wi-Fi network
Another mistake small businesses frequently make is relying on only one access point regardless of the network load. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets and laptops in the workplace means you could easily have dozens of wireless devices with just 8 to 10 employees, so it’s best to err on the side of over-coverage. Installing multiple access points up front reduces the risk of productivity killing bottlenecks.
You can also reduce the burden on your wireless network by migrating ethernet-ready devices such as desktop PCs and printers to wired networking whenever feasible.
Bad placement of Wi-Fi access points
The physical location of a Wi-Fi access point is critical, as you will quickly find if you place one in an alcove, beside large metallic fixtures or cupboards, or next to thick concrete beams. “Line of sight” barriers like these will weaken your Wi-Fi signal.
Because there are generally more obstructions—such as cubicle walls and furniture—near the floor, an elevated location works better than a lower one. A simple way to assess possible locations is to visualize the wireless signals emanating from the access point in a straight line. Parts of the office that are blocked by three or more obstructions will likely experience weak or nonexistent signals.
Expecting to get the speeds shown on the box
It’s easy to be seduced by the 300Mbps or 450Mbps speeds 802.11n wireless routers promise. However, these are theoretical and don’t account for real-world conditions or the substantial protocol overheads inherent to wireless networks.
In our review of the Asus RT-N66U router, for example, the router offered a performance of just 226Mbps at 9 feet, dropping to 43.1Mbps at 65 feet. What’s more, the figures are applicable only for a single client–this bandwidth would be divided among any additional devices operating on the same frequency band. If you need to routinely transfer large files across your local network, consider setting up a wired Gigabit network.
Using your router’s default channel
When you need to get your network up and running quickly, it’s tempting to start using your router without bothering to change the default channel. But unless you live far from civilization, it’s likely this channel is already in use by a neighbor, which can cause interference that degrades your wireless performance.
To avoid this, change the channel on your device when you set it up. It’s not difficult as there are only three non-overlapping channels: 1, 6, and 11. Of course, locations that are swamped with multiple Wi-Fi networks may need to experiment with overlapping channels for the best results. Some wireless access points detect nearby Wi-Fi networks and offer information about the channels they use as well as their signal strengths, which helps tremendously.
Ignoring the 5GHz band
If your router offers simultaneous dual band, make sure your 5GHz radio is enabled. This allows laptops that support 5GHz to be offloaded onto this less-cluttered band, freeing up the 2.4GHz band for other devices such as smartphones and tablets. Also, the 5GHz band’s shorter range allows for the use of additional APs in high-density deployments with less risk of interference.
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