8 Tips For Configuring Wireless Access Points

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve read part 1 of our wireless access point installation guide and are now ready to configure your new WiFi system. Depending on the equipment you purchased as well as your system’s intended use, you may want to consider custom configurations. WiFi is not one-size-fits-all and while access points and controllers may work right out of the box, some tinkering may help you make the most out of your wireless access point installation. The thought of WiFi configuration can be very scary but in reality, it’s not difficult at all. A few tweaks here and there can tighten security, increase reliability and help yield the most value from your investment. Almost all enterprise grade wireless equipment manufacturers will allow for the customizations featured below. If your equipment does not allow you to make these changes, it may be time for an upgrade.

It’s a good idea to check out all the settings on any piece of technology you use and this definitely applies to your WiFi. Whether you’re providing WiFi to thousands of users in an office building, hundreds of devices in a warehouse, or just a few pieces of technology in your home, the tips below apply to any wireless access point installation and should be used as a foundation for future network configurations.

8 Tips For Configuring Wireless Access Points

Top 8 Tips for Your Wireless Access Point Installation

1. Regularly check and update firmware.

One of the most overlooked aspects of installing access points can be updating the firmware. Outdated firmware may not be instantly apparent, but it can prevent your wireless network from operating at peak performance.

The quality of your system’s firmware dictates its security and reliability. Security flaws in your wireless system can make all of your data vulnerable to hackers and not even seasoned IT professionals may know how to rectify them. A 2014 report shows that 32% of IT professionals don’t even know how to update the wireless firmware in their homes! They may be surprised to learn that updating firmware is a fairly easy fix to a serious problem.

Perhaps saying “easy fix” is selling it short. Updating firmware is still a process that requires proper knowledge and technical savvy and can also require troubleshooting and specific tools. Access points may need to be manually reset and this can involve dangerous ladder climbing. Tools may also be required to perform the manual reset or unhook from mounting brackets. Depending on the circumstances, it may be safer and less expensive to hire a managed WiFi service provider to do the job for you.

2. Implement the proper security protocol.

Almost all WiFi networks are vulnerable to malicious attacks that can jeopardize your precious company data. The first thing you should do after setting-up your wireless access point installation is select a strong password. It may seem unnecessary to password protect your WiFi, but your password is the first level of defense against hackers trying to access your network. The current standard for WiFi security is WPA2 and while it does have its own vulnerabilities, WPA2 is much more secure than previous security protocols including WPA, WEP and EAP

You’ve selected a WPA2, but you’re not out of the woods just yet! You still need to craft a strong password in order to secure your wireless access point installation. Contrary to popular belief, you should avoid choosing short passwords with random symbols, letters and numbers. You would think a password like “d07;oj7MgLz’%v” would be pretty secure, but realistically, it would be very hard for a human being to remember such a random password. If someone really wanted to hack into your network, all they have to do is use a computer program that generates random keys until it figures-out the correct password.The shorter the password is, the less time it would take such a computer to brute-force guess your password.

When selecting a password, try to choose a long form sentence that utilizes multiple characters (15+) and feel free to throw in random numbers and symbols if you want. Most importantly, make sure the sentence is something that’s unique to you and easy to remember. A password like “My daughter turns 15 on the 4th and is very happy!” contains 50 characters and would take a computer program hundreds or even thousands of years to crack. If someone is willing to invest that much time into hacking your wireless network, then you may have bigger issues to deal with.

Lastly, make sure that you don’t make your password public. This isn’t as much a configuration tip as it is common sense. Disclose your WiFi password on a need-to-know basis to make sure that you have control over who can connect to your network and who can’t.

3. Improve roaming if you installed multiple access points

If you have a large space, then chances are your wireless access point installation includes multiple access points. In part 1 of this blog series, we discussed the importance of utilizing a unified management system when deploying more than one access point. The management system, typically in the form of a physical or cloud controller, allows you to manage your access points to enable seamless client roaming from one radio to another.

In most cases, the end user device will determine which access point to stay connected to based on which access point has the strongest signal. There can be instances, however, where there are multiple access points deployed in a small area to support requirements, such as high density. If this is the case, the signal your device receives from a further access point may still be strong enough that your device chooses to stay connected to it, even though there may be a closer access point that is delivering an even stronger signal nearby. This can cause performance issues, as there may be factors in the environment that interfere with radio signal propagation.

One thing that can aid with roaming is reducing signal strength on certain or all access points so that client devices can more easily hop from one access point to another as they travel throughout your facility.

An easy way to figure out which access points to decrease signal strength on is to imagine traffic flow through your building or office space and where devices are most commonly used. Nearly 100% of foot traffic typically flows through a common entrance and users most likely follow certain paths before they end up in their workspace. Access points located near these common areas are more prone to pick up devices that stay connected to them as their users move throughout the facility.

4. Configure your equipment to support legacy devices.

Maybe you’re working for an old school boss who refuses to throw away that 2008 Blackberry or maybe you have an old laptop that you love more than your children. These devices most likely connect using older WiFi standards and typically strictly use the 2.4 GHz band. If this is the case with your new wireless access point installation, then you definitely have to check out your new equipment to make sure it’s set to support your dated technology.

Most modern Internet-enabled devices use the 802.11ac wireless standard and only connect on the 5 GHz band, as this supports more channels and a higher throughput. There are also those legacy devices that use older wireless standards like 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g. These devices commonly exclusively use the 2.4 GHz band, so you may have to configure your wireless access points installation to support them. If your office only uses technology that has been manufactured within the last 4 years, then you probably won’t have to enable your networks to broadcast on the 2.4 GHz band. If you also own some of these older devices, then make sure you enable use of channels 1, 6 and 11 only to avoid overlap. Use a spectrum analyzer to determine if you have channel overlap and reduce radio power accordingly.

5. Trust the machine.

If your wireless access point installation consists of modern access points and you’re in an environment with a lot of wireless interference, then let your controller make all the decisions regarding channels. It’s called the controller, after all. In an environment with lots of wireless pollution, like New York City, new networks are constantly broadcast from nearby offices. Their signals infiltrate your office and can cause issues with your wireless performance.

If you find yourself in such an ever changing environment then, we recommend that you trust your access points to do the work for you. Modern access points have antennas that can detect nearby wireless networks, channels being used and even interference. This information is then reported back to the controller, which determines which channels your access points should broadcast on for optimal performance.

Fixing yourself to one channel might seem like a good idea at first because you ran your spectrum analyzer and saw that one channel was free but you’ll begin to notice all sorts of issues in a few days. Run a second spectrum analysis and you’ll see that the channel you chose is now super congested and it’s causing your poor WiFi performance. In short, when it comes to channel selection, let the controller do what it was designed to do.

6. Be aware of hidden channels that could offer minimal interference.

Most access points allow you to use the whole range of 5 Ghz channels, just not by default. Check your access point settings to see if you can enable DFS channels, as they are not commonly used and can offer some performance benefits. Disregard this point if your wireless network is near an airport or weather radar, as the equipment found there often uses the DFS range. Double DFS can cause your wireless network performance can suffer.

7. Reduce signal power to improve wireless performance.

Your wireless access point may actually consist of multiple access points. You opt to increase the signal power because you think the more power the better, right? Well that’s not always a good idea. If you have many access points in a small space, you may need to reduce cell size to avoid CCI (co-channel interference). How much power should you reduce? That depends on your environment. You can attempt to play with the settings a bit but the only way to really figure out the exact number is to have a professional conduct a wireless site survey.

8. Don’t create too many SSIDs.

This tip is perhaps the most simple and applies to any wireless access point installation, regardless of industry or use. We recommend broadcasting no more than 4 or 5 wireless networks. Each SSID has a great impact on airtime utilization. These beacons are constantly transmitting, trying to be heard by client devices looking for a network. If you have too many, then you are using more airtime and limiting the amount of data that can be transferred over the networks.

Set Up a Perfect Wireless Access Point Installation

Hope our wireless access point installation blog series has shed some light on your upcoming or current wireless install and you’ve internalized some pointers for achieving the perfect WiFi. If you’re still not sure, or perhaps your environment is just too challenging, don’t hesitate to contact the senior wireless specialists at Made By WiFi for a wireless network consultation and professional wireless site survey services.