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Ron Walczak
Ron Walczak
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Tips for Smarter WLAN Design

Healthcare, retail, and warehouse/manufacturing have their own quirks when it comes to WLAN design. These tips will help you avoid cookie-cutter deployments.

802.11 wireless networks are built out of the same general components (access points, antennas, controllers, and so on), so you might assume wireless designs would be pretty much the same no matter the venue. In fact, such a cookie-cutter mentality is exactly the wrong approach.

WLANs will differ depending on user density, applications, performance requirements, the need to support legacy devices and systems, and the physical characteristics of the environment.

For instance, healthcare facilities differ greatly from corporate installations. Building construction can be problematic; older buildings tend to have thick walls that block signals, while new buildings tend to have thin walls that allow signals to travel further than desired. Areas with lead-lined walls, coolers, and specialty equipment create even more challenges.

On the client side, patient and guest access competes with clinical and administrative traffic. The wide variety of 802.11 technologies deployed in the building (including legacy 802.11b) throttles back throughput to the lowest common denominator. Advanced WLAN features such as Voice over Wi-Fi become increasingly difficult in this environment.

If you plan to design for wireless voice, your access points should operate at power levels close to that of the voice handset or else conversations may become one-way. You have to manage power levels while minimizing co-channel interference. Creative AP placements, disabling 802.11b rates, and directional antennae also play a part in a successful implementation.

Retail Wi-Fi installations are becoming more common for both customer service and marketing, as retailers can use a customer’s mobile device to track movement through a store and offer discounts or product information in real time. Customers can introduce a network security threat if the retailer employs wireless POS devices on the same network. Retailers can address these challenges with the appropriate use of VLANs and local caching of store-specific Web content.

Manufacturing and warehousing bring the challenges of large amounts of reflective metal and absorptive products in the same space. High ceilings and ever-changing shelving and stock create the need for creative placement of APs and the use of specialized antennae that can create coverage zones to match the layout of the facility.

Access points often have no barriers between them as everything is down below (sometimes 30 to 50 feet below), so be aware that the management system will struggle to provide optimum coverage and power.

When you go into a manufacturing space to design the WLAN, be prepared to spend some time on lifts. Look to specialty antennae to address the space issue, and set some parameters within the RF management system to prevent over-compensation and subsequent drops in power level.

For more details on how to deploy WLANs for specific vertical markets, you can attend my session “Optimal WLAN Design for Retail, Healthcare and the Enterprise” at Interop Las Vegas. The session will go into detail on designs optimized for these environments and discuss Wi-Fi software design and analysis tools that can help ensure a successful installation and ongoing reliability.

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