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How to improve wireless network capacity and performance in 3 steps

In order to implement and optimize sufficient wireless network capacity, organizations need to follow the three key steps of planning, managing and troubleshooting.

The edge of the network today is wireless, and it encompasses almost every user, device and application. Therefore, an organization needs to ensure its Wi-Fi service is reliable, secure and operating at peak performance and efficiency. In other words, network professionals need to make sure end users are productive and their communication needs are always addressed.

But, given the variable nature of wireless networking, ensuring optimal performance is often difficult. It's especially important to consider that performance today isn't really about raw speed. Most users have no real need for gigabit-class throughput, but they need whatever throughput is essential to the applications in use at any given time, which is usually a function of bounded network latency.

For optimal wireless network performance, organizations should consider sufficient wireless network capacity to meet aggregate user needs. By taking this step, organizations can maximize their return on investment and delay the next upgrade until it's needed.

Plan, manage and troubleshoot wireless network capacity

A few best practices can help organizations toward the goal of sufficient wireless network capacity. In terms of a Wi-Fi installation lifecycle, organizations can pursue the following keys toward wireless network optimization:

  • Planning. Network teams need to understand the application requirements that define the load on any given network. This includes the physical location of this demand -- mobility is a key variable -- and planning for aggregate peak wireless network capacity to maximize end-user productivity. To accomplish this task, IT teams can review network logs and application-usage trends. Also, consider locations where large numbers of users congregate. While a formal Wi-Fi site survey is not always necessary, a basic radio-frequency sweep with a spectrum analyzer is advisable to identify sources of potential interference, including nearby Wi-Fi systems.
  • Operations. The key element here is the radical improvements in management consoles over the past few years. Management functionality used to be an afterthought; today, it's the major differentiator among vendor offerings. The functionality is key to improved reliability, lower costs and better end-user productivity. The best advice, then, is to learn the console and use it regularly to monitor performance and improve reliability.
  • Troubleshooting. Finally, it's good to have a set of tools to help isolate and resolve problems quickly. This should include a spectrum analyzer -- either stand-alone and mobile or built into access points, or even both -- as well as other assurance tools. Regular monitoring of management console reports is also beneficial by looking for immediate concerns and long-term problems. Contemporary analytics tools could also help troubleshoot wireless network capacity.

What's the future of network performance management?

In the world of network management and operations, recent advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are especially encouraging. Machine learning makes AI smarter over time. Add in multi-tenant, cloud-based services, and the problems solved at one site can prevent those problems from occurring at many other sites. 

By using these tools, network teams can reap the benefits of automation, proactive services, lower costs and enhanced productivity all around.

However, advances in basic technologies -- such as multiuser multiple input, multiple output and beamforming -- can create other challenges. Traditional radio-frequency sensors used to monitor traffic and radio conditions might not see a good portion of radio traffic at all. Additionally, benchmarking servers ought to be built into individual access points to evaluate the radio-frequency performance of any link isolated from the rest of the network.

But have no fear. Despite the advanced age of enterprise wireless networking, innovation is alive and well. For those of us who depend on the network -- and that's everyone, everywhere -- we'll see a continuous stream of new benefits for many years to come.

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This was last published in October 2018

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