informa
/
4 min read
article

Why Doesn't Wi-Fi Work On Many Corporate Campuses?

While some Wi-Fi evangelists wax poetic about the potential of muni Wi-Fi and free broadband wireless for the masses, I have a much simpler question: Why is Wi-Fi access on most corporate campuses so bad? Corporate Wi-Fi has been around now fo
While some Wi-Fi evangelists wax poetic about the potential of muni Wi-Fi and free broadband wireless for the masses, I have a much simpler question: Why is Wi-Fi access on most corporate campuses so bad? Corporate Wi-Fi has been around now for five to six years in most work environments, but it's far from usable most of the time. Coverage is often lousy (why is there access in some cubes but not in that corner where you always have that annoying weekly staff meeting) and sometimes it's just impossible to get on. Why can't corporate Wi-Fi, you know, just work?I started pondering this question the other day when I visited a tech vendor's campus (yes, it was a wireless company). I needed to log on and check my e-mail in between news briefings. I tried to log on to their network, but to no avail. And I wasn't alone, there were a few other wireless journalists and bloggers there, too, and they had just as rough a time getting on the network as me. The company had arranged for guest access, but one of the PR people told us that employees had just as rough a time logging on to the wireless LAN as guests.

Tech columnist David Pogue recently reported having issues with the Wi-Fi access on his Mac notebook:


That's a big deal. When I'm desperate to turn in a column or check e-mail, I need an open network.

On my Mac laptop, on the other hand, all I get is a menu of Wi-Fi networks. No indication of signal strength or password requirement. To find an open one, I have to choose one after another, checking to see if the "Enter password" box pops up. When I'm in a hurry (stopped at a light in a cab, say), the last thing I want to do is play Password Roulette.

Part of the problem is accessing Wi-Fi from legacy operating systems. Neither Windows XP nor Mac OS X excels here. I am told that Windows Vista offers a better experience, but I have yet to upgrade to Vista on any of my machines, so I cannot verify this. Regardless, while this is an issue, it's not the main culprit.

The bigger issue lies with the Wi-Fi networks themselves. Many companies (including the vendor's campus I visited) rushed to launch Wi-Fi in 2002 and 2003. The technology was relatively affordable and executives wanted cheap and easy Wi-Fi access in their conference rooms and in corridors. The problem, though, was that these networks were deployed by IT departments that didn't know that much about wireless at the time. In the five years since, Wi-Fi equipment has improved significantly. Most IT managers today also know more about deploying wireless LAN systems than they did then. The problem is that many campuses haven't upgraded their wireless networks. In short, companies are stuck with the guinea pig deployments and they haven't taken what they've learned and improved their systems.

To be fair, many corporate Wi-Fi networks also have a lot more traffic than they did a few years ago -- in some cases, use of the Wi-Fi network has far exceeded the original designs of the systems. But that's not an excuse. Why pay to maintain a system if it doesn't work?

Let's be honest: Wi-Fi is a key mobile technology and if any business really wants to leverage mobility, it needs a robust Wi-Fi network. It needs a network that can scale, one that can accommodate lots of users, and one that can handle a variety of applications, including voice and streaming video. Wi-Fi is the backbone of a number of IT trends, including unified communications, fixed mobile convergence, and VoIP. But how can these trends go anywhere if they're supposed to work on overstrained systems?

If you're planning your IT strategy and upgrading your Wi-Fi isn't in the plans, you're missing the boat. Robust Wi-Fi is a necessity for both advanced telecommunications and the future of your core network. There is no sense in planning for dual-mode smartphones and fully integrated voice and data (much less in the wireless notebooks you keep buying) if you aren't investing in a better Wi-Fi network.