8 Tips for Setting Up a Business Grade WiFi Network

It looks like you’re interested in a large or small business wireless network setup. Whether you’ve opened your new business location or you’re in the process of moving from one office to another, you’re off to a great start. Solid office WiFi solutions should be a principal part of your business plan. After all, your company depends on a strong wireless network setup to complete day-to-day tasks and WiFi is quickly becoming the only way to go. Devices that require hardline Ethernet connectivity are on the fast track to obsolescence. Major tech manufacturers are releasing new devices sans Ethernet ports as high speed, reliable WiFi eliminates can deliver stable connections that used to require hardline Ethernet connectivity.

The shift to a fully wireless environment benefits large and small businesses alike. You see, it’s more cost-effective and efficient to mount a few access points and grant hundreds of devices simultaneous wireless access than it is to purchase Cat5 cable and provide an Ethernet connection for each device. Modern enterprise grade access points are powerful and affordable – a perfect fit for any small business wireless network setup. An up-to-date WiFi network can reduce operational costs and increase productivity, but proper configuration requires preparation and professional grade equipment. If you’re planning a large WiFi network setup, these 8 tips will help you make the most of your your technology and investment.

small business wireless network

1. Conduct a site survey to determine proper access point placement for your small business wireless network setup

The first step in planning a large WiFi network setup is almost always a wireless site survey. (Exceptions: a small office that only needs 2 or less access points or is under 2,000 square feet, unless the office environment contains objects that might be detrimental to wireless signals or has certain materials in its walls, like metal or glass.) A wireless site survey helps you determine the proper amount, placement and configuration of access points. Site surveys are especially important in medium and large office environments with 5 or more access points or where conditions are not conducive to the proliferation of wireless radio signals (warehouses, hospitals or densely populated areas, such as shared, open floor office spaces, malls and event venues.)

Depending on the square footage of your office, the site survey can take anywhere from a few hours to several days. Site surveys aren’t meant to be conducted in empty office spaces. They’re ideally performed in real time office environments, where employees are working as they would on any other day and where all structures and furniture are in their usual positions. Conducting a survey in a real time environment allows you to clearly see the demand put on your wireless network and which areas can be improved. Sometimes, improvement is as simple as adding a new access point. Other times, it requires channel configuration as well as internal tweaks to make sure that your access points can properly communicate with one another as employees roam around the office. Site survey results lay the foundation for your IT plan. That’s why the site survey is a must for any technical director or officer planning their large or small business wireless network setup.

2. Choose the right equipment that is meant for your small business network needs

Before you begin to plan your site survey, make sure you’ve chosen the right access point. It’s an essential part of the site survey process. It’s important to choose commercial WiFi equipment meant to support dozens, or even hundreds, of simultaneous connections, depending on your unique needs. Business owners often make the mistake of using WiFi access points meant for a home for their businesses. This equipment, while cheaper, is not really meant to be used for environments with more than a few connected devices and the wireless signals typically don’t reach past 1,000 square feet.

Use commercial WiFi equipment, like those manufactured by Cisco, Ruckus or Aerohive. This type of equipment is meant for environments where high performance wireless access is mission critical and WiFi cannot fail – environments like your office. These types of access points can be a bit more expensive than what you would purchase at a big name retailer for home use, but don’t let the price discourage you. A catalyst to productivity, an exceptional WiFi network is a key element of any small business wireless network setup.

3. Selected equipment that can be easily maintained with lots of support materials available

When shopping for your WiFi equipment and other network hardware, look for items that are easily managed. When set-up properly, WiFi will simply work so you won’t have to regularly log into your equipment to adjust settings, but in the event that support is required, it’s important to be able to log into your equipment and quickly address issues, so that business operations can continue. If you’re deploying a wireless network that uses more than 3 access points, one item you should pick-up is a low-maintenance on-site or cloud controller. A controller helps access points communicate. Controller hardware and software is usually license-based, but price and capabilities vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some cloud controller software is even free. Just because features may be limited doesn’t mean it isn’t a perfect fit for many small business wireless network setups.

Choose switches, firewalls and gateways that are low maintenance, so that support and scaling isn’t a nightmare. As a rule of thumb, try to purchase equipment from manufacturers that are well-known and offer a variety of support materials. Many service providers try to white label equipment from well-known manufacturers with the goal of selling you their “proprietary” device. This will create issues if you ever want to change service providers as you’re all of a sudden left with a piece of equipment and no support materials or technicians.

4. Don’t forget security when planning your large or small business wireless network setup

Oftentimes, access points and WiFi controllers simply won’t provide the levels of security that most enterprise grade WiFi networks require, so supplemental equipment, like firewalls, will need to be installed in order to maintain network integrity. At the least, you must make sure that your networks are password protected and that these passwords are not easily accessed by users that don’t need to know them. A splash page can also increase security by acting as another layer of authentication and providing insight into the types and activities of devices connected to your network. For further security…

5. Use multiple SSIDs to better manage your network and improve performance

If company servers or devices containing important information are connected to the same network, then every user on that network has access to your data. It’s a fact that the majority of security breaches in enterprise networks come from internal devices and not outside hackers. It’s just as important, if not more important, to protect your network from internal threats as it is to defend against external intruders. One way is to use multiple SSIDs when broadcasting WiFi to different types of users. Using multiple SSIDs to separate guests, employees and other wireless users helps to maintain security, QoS and manage bandwidth. If you opt to only use one SSID, you are taking a huge security risk, as all of your connected devices are in the same VLAN (virtual local area network) and can likely communicate with one another.

Keep in mind: the use of multiple SSIDs can hurt your WiFi network if too many are broadcasted at once. Don’t create SSIDs for user groups unless they require a specific policy or level of service. Broadcasting multiple unnecessary (or even necessary) SSIDs will impact signal strength and may result in packet loss and less than optimal connections.

6. Consider wiring and aesthetics when planning your wireless network setup

It may seem counterintuitive, but your small business wireless network setup is actually very much dependant on a solid wiring plan. Every access point you deploy will need at least one cable, either for data or power. Depending on the aesthetic of your office, you may want to hide cables in the walls rather than have them run out in the open. Some access points can work using a mesh connection, so data cables like Cat5 or Cat6 are not required, however, they still require power. We typically never recommend mesh connections as there is a significant loss in the quality of service and speed.

Many access points can be powered using POE (power over Ethernet) switches and, therefore, will not require separate power adaptors or electrical line runs. POE switches are generally affordable. In most cases, it is more cost-effective to purchase a POE switch instead of buying individual power adaptors or placing APs close to existing power outlets (which may not be ideal for the propagation of the wireless signal.) Be sure to consult a professional cabling company when running new cables as there are nuanced methods that need to be followed in order to pull the best performance out of your WiFI network.

7. Choose wireless network hardware that include support for your business

One of the best parts of purchasing commercial WiFI equipment is being able to purchase support directly from the equipment manufacturer. Most small businesses don’t have the budget to hire an internal IT director or pay a company like Made By WiFi for ongoing support. Luckily, many manufacturers offer some level of support. Most will be able to troubleshoot problems related to their equipment and offer advanced hardware replacement in cases of complete hardware failure. Some manufacturers require that you purchase support, but the additional cost can go a long way. Technology isn’t perfect and equipment will sometimes be subject to software corruptions or other issues that may cause them to malfunction and perform erratically. It happens very rarely, but it does happen. When it does, you’ll appreciate having purchased hardware support, as the total cost of the support will be less than the cost of purchasing new equipment all over again.

8. Seek professional help to plan your business wireless network setup if necessary

Sometimes your issues go beyond what a manufacturer’s support team can provide. There are times when you need professional advice on managing your large or small business wireless network setup. In such cases, call companies like Made By WiFi. Traditional IT training doesn’t focus on specialized wireless and networking certifications, so many IT directors and CTOs, though immensely talented, do not know enough about WiFi and its nuances to deploy flawless office WiFi solutions and may require some professional consultation when necessary. Don’t think of Made By WiFi as a new IT department, think of our services as a supplement to a solid team. After all, would you rather pay once and have everything go right or constantly pay to avoid suffering through a weak office WiFi network?

Configuring a large or small business wireless network setup requires knowledge of how the network is going to be used as well as its hardware requirements. Made By WiFi can assist on all fronts.

WiFi is the heart of a large or small business, working tirelessly to power daily operations. You may not feel it, or even think about it when it’s working properly, but you definitely know when your WiFi needs some help. Whether you’re planning to install a whole new wireless network, replace an existing one, or optimize one that may not be properly configured, look to the 8 tips listed above. Need additional advice? Have specific questions? You can always call Made By WiFi for a professional consultation.