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How to Choose Wi-Fi Equipment for an Office Network

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One of the most important parts of a small office network setup is the WLAN. Having the proper networking equipment to handle the ever-growing demands we place on office wireless networks is crucial. Simply put, a business needs a strong, reliable Wi-Fi to remain productive. Why? In the U.S. the statistics tell the story.

  • 67 percent of workers already use personal devices to be productive at work. (CBS MoneyWatch)
  • 50 percent of companies may already require employees to provide their own devices in the office. (Gartner)
  • Businesses are using 31 billion connected devices on the work WLAN as of 2017. (IHS Markit)

Our Field Service Technician at NeweggBusiness, Scott Padgett, supports customers and our account team appropriately choose Wi-Fi equipment for small offices, and large ones too. Now keep in mind that different types of SMBs have different needs. For example, a law office network will look different from a restaurant. But when it comes to wireless networking, you want to understand what product specifications to look for on wireless routers and access points used in a business capacity.

Here Scott helps us sort out which wireless networking hardware features tie into WLAN outcomes that a business should have.

Smart Buyer: What types of problems might a business encounter if they try to use consumer-grade WLAN equipment for a business network?

Scott Padgett: Most consumer products are not designed for a 24/7 usage cycle. Consumer Wi-Fi units aren’t designed for commercial applications where you may have dozens of connections simultaneously. Commercial units have better security, better manageability, and are easier to remotely install.

If you want to set up a Guest Network in a secure fashion, what kind of hardware features and specifications should you look at for doing this?

You really want to use a captive portal methodology. Captive portals are now well established as a means to access the Internet, whether in hotels, conference centers or Wi-Fi hotspots. When the guest first brings up a web browser, the stream is intercepted and the guest is presented with an authentication page. This captive portal, which can be customized with the organization’s look and feel, can prompt for an e-mail address, password, or a click-through terms of use agreement. This is seldom available on consumer grade units that offer—at best—a pre-shared key for security.

If you’d like to manage several access points from one remote location, what kind of equipment is going to give you that capability?

Most consumer-grade APs aren’t designed to work in concert with other units, making the handoff from AP to AP more awkward than commercial units. Most SMB access points now include a basic “controller” to manage multiple APs with the same SSID.

Everyone knows Power over Ethernet (PoE) gear offers a lot of convenience when installing a WLAN. What is the benefit of newer PoE+ equipment that’s becoming more prevalent now?

A basic PoE switch offers only 15.4 Watts per port whereas many new 802.11ac Wave 2 APs require more power—as do [point tilt zoom] PTZ cameras. PoE+ offers some 30 Watt per port.

Which endpoints should use the 2.4 GHz band, and which should use the 5 GHz band?

At the moment, there are two main frequencies bands designed for 802.11 Wi-Fi networks: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The larger amount of bandwidth available in the 5 GHz band makes it the preferred option in business environments, though Wi-Fi clients operating at the 2.4 GHz 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 5 GHz 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.

More Smart Buyer resources related to small office networking

Are you ready setup or upgrade your small office wireless network? Reach out to an account executive for pricing and additional assistance when choosing Wi-Fi equipment for your office network.

Adam Lovinus

Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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