How to Set Up a Business-Grade Wi-Fi Network

Setting up a robust Wi-Fi network for your business doesn't have to be a nerve-wrecking experience. looks at seven key factors you need to consider, including access points, frequency bands, network management and the forthcoming 802.11ac standard.

By Paul Mah
Tue, October 09, 2012

CIO — The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend means the number of smartphones and tablets are making their way onto corporate networks will only rise. An increasing number of these devices, including the Amazon Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7 tablets, are Wi-Fi only; this inevitably puts a strain on existing Wi-Fi networks. For businesses that are either (very) late to the Wi-Fi bandwagon or looking to overhaul an anarchic wireless infrastructure, here are several important points to consider.

Get Business-Grade Access Points

There's a big disparity between the cost of consumer access points (AP) with business-centric models from leading brands such as Aruba, Cisco and Ruckus Wireless. Confused by what may appear to be similar specifications, small businesses may opt for cheaper consumer-grade Wi-Fi APs that are, in fact, inadequate for the task at hand.

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To be fair, some of these differences are difficult to quantify. This includes less-than-rock-solid reliability under round-the-clock use and a tendency to perform poorly when faced with external interference from neighboring Wi-Fi networks. Indeed, even top-tier AP models targeted at consumers can overload with just a few dozen simultaneous connections. Finally, nonbusiness APs typically lack advanced capabilities in crucial areas such as security, manageability, load management and remote deployment and upgradability.

Business APs, on the other hand, are designed for rock-solid performance in the face of 24/7 operation and the crushing workload generated from dozens of simultaneously active Wi-Fi devices. This is a stark contrast from the handful of intermittently accessed Wi-Fi devices typical of a home environment. Moreover, you can expect a business-centric AP to incorporate as standard features crucial security, manageability, load management and remote deployment and upgradability capabilities (which will be discussed below).

Weigh 2.4GHz, 5GHz Frequency Bands Carefully

At the moment, there are two main frequencies bands designed for 802.11 Wi-Fi networks: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The larger amount of bandwidth available in the 5GHz band makes it the preferred option in business environments, though Wi-Fi clients operating at the 2.4GHz frequency block do have a better range. Most business-grade APs can operate in both frequency bands, while higher-end models can serve Wi-Fi clients in both bands simultaneously. The shorter range of 5GHz does allow APs to be deployed in closer proximity without signals overlapping and interfering with one another. This, in turn, allows for a higher number of AP to be deployed.

It should be noted that most Wi-Fi clients still do not work on the 5GHz band. While the iPad 2 and new iPad will work on a 5GHz network, lower-end tablets such as the Amazon Fire and Google Nexus 7 will connect on only the 2.4GHz band. Similarly, most smartphones are 2.4GHz only.

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