The Whole Picture: What to Consider When Designing or Refreshing a Wireless Network

The Whole Picture: What to Consider When Designing or Refreshing a Wireless Network

By Carrie Rasak On 01/10/2023

Chances are, we've all lead, or otherwise been part of, a project to design a new wireless network or refresh an existing one. If you have, you're familiar with the design meetings: you talk with your group to determine what hardware to purchase, how it will tie into your existing network, and what peripherals you might need. Then comes the fun part: getting equipment to play with, in order to make sure the vendor's devices will do what you expect.

Before you decide to roll out your new solution, there are a plethora of other things to consider. As a network engineer who's delved into the wireless side of things over the last few years, I can attest that there are things that sometimes get overlooked during the (re)design process. Let's review how things typically play out:

  • Initial design meetings, where requirements are laid out
  • Putting together a request for proposal and inviting vendors to submit bids...or, maybe just going to the latest and greatest from your current vendor
  • Configuring everything in a lab environment to test and make sure you get the features and performance you want
  • Making final decisions, composing a purchase order, and placing an order
  • Updating documentation like topology diagrams, rack elevations, and procedural documents
  • When the equipment is on site, getting it ready to deploy and considering a realistic schedule that can be communicated to necessary parties
  • After a lot of pre-work and testing, turn up / migration day comes and you hope it all goes smoothly

That's a pretty comprehensive list, but it's not the whole story. Your access points need to connect to a switch on site. Let's say you want to buy Cisco's new Wi-Fi 6/6E capable controller, the Catalyst 9800. You want to take advantage of faster speeds and increased bandwidth. Fewer complaints of congestion and latency would be nice, right?

Not so fast—what model of switch is on site? Is it capable of 10G or higher speeds?

If your uplinks to the site gateway are only 1G and the switch isn't capable of supporting a 10G connection, it doesn't matter what the controller can do. The access points connecting to a switch that only supports a 1G connection won't be able to do anything more than that, so you'll have a traffic bottleneck and slower speeds.

Or maybe you just need new transceivers so you can upgrade your uplinks. That's an easy solution if you can swing the expense. Make sure the transceivers you're using are capable of at least 10G connections on both sides—the switches on site and the router that allows you access to the Internet.

Another thing to look at is the fiber you currently have. If you still have OM1 or OM2 fiber in your closet, it's time to upgrade. OM1 is not compatible with the other types of multimode fiber and is only good for 100ft or 33m. Chances are you aren't using it, unless you've got an old site. OM3 and OM4 can be run further distances and are capable of speeds up to 100G.

For more bandwidth and higher speeds, OM3 or OM4 are the best choices. There's a newer standard, OM5, which is a wide band multimode fiber, but it's mainly used for data centers and high-speed applications. Unless you're a service provider, you're probably not going to need it.

Once you're sure the network equipment on site can support higher speed connections from access points, you'll want to consider how much overall bandwidth the site will generate and make sure your WAN links can support that. Study traffic patterns over time to see how much bandwidth the site already uses and how saturated your links get. If you're already cutting it close, that's another piece you'll want to upgrade, or as I like to say, "get bigger pipes".

In an ideal world, your group controls all of these parts and you can easily cover your bases. If that's not the case, you need to work with the people responsible for those components to make sure you're all on the same page and consulting each other before ordering new hardware. This avoids the issues described above.

The extra work here will be well worth it when your (re)design rolls out and your customers, clients, and colleagues enjoy higher speeds and more bandwidth. And after all is said and done, please remember to update all of your documentation to reflect the new implementation.

Carrie's LinkedIn

Tagged with: wireless network design considerations, wireless network design, cwnp

Blog Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within these blog posts are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Certitrek, CWNP or its affiliates.

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