Why Reliable Business-Class WiFi Connections Are Hard to Find
To do this, companies that design business-class WiFi products need to go far beyond the standard radios and antennas found in the basic $20 access point. "The difference is in how you're designing your electronics, shielding your components so you can hit that 30-decibel signal-to-noise ratio in a reasonable environment," explained Dirk Gates, executive chairman and founder of Xirrus, a company that specializes in enterprise WiFi. "You're going to have much better sensitivity and much better signal rejection." While both companies use commercially available WiFi chips, the differences between those access point and what you'd find available at a Best Buy or Walmart are significant. Both companies completely redesign the radios in their products, and they make use of advanced antenna design. In addition, the companies beef up the electronics that handle the signal processing in their access points. "You need more memory in an enterprise-class product because you may have station counts that are an order of magnitude higher," Gates explained. "We build nothing less than 2 cores," he said, "but most are 4-core 64-bit with nothing less than a gig of RAM."There are additional considerations, including the fact that with business-class WiFi, you have to coordinate the activities of many access points within a building and allow mobile devices to roam from one to another seamlessly. If all you're doing is buying a bunch of cheap consumer WiFi devices, that won't work. "On the enterprise side, there's a level of coordination and sharing of information that home devices don't do," Gates explained. And then there's the need to find ways to seek out the relatively weak WiFi signals that are in use in a company. This means designing radios that work well on all of the WiFi channels at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Hill of Rukus Wireless points out that this includes being able to adjust the antenna design to handle differences in polarization and the ability to focus the antenna on each specific WiFi source, even if it's moving. "WiFi technology is advancing to pick the best modulation rates for different clients as environmental conditions change as well as automatically choose the best channels that will yield the highest data rates," Callisch said. "Stronger signals, over the best signal paths ensure fewer dropped packets or retransmissions, allowing more clients to use the network simultaneously. WiFi is no longer about coverage; it’s about reliable capacity on demand." So how do you know whether your company is choosing the right WiFi solution? First, you need to ask questions about how the company's WiFi access points handle large client counts and how they handle interference. Then you need to ask how this is all accomplished. If the vendor or consultant you're talking to suggests simply buying a lot of APs, then it's time to look elsewhere. The one thing that's true about business-class WiFi, besides the fact that it's not cheap, is that with business-class WiFi, more is not better. Smarter is what's better.
When an access point includes a full load of enterprise features, such as policy management, a real-time firewall and tunneling capability, it requires some significant processing horsepower, Gates said.