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A Quick Guide on Selecting Enterprise Wireless Access Points

Over the last few years, wireless has become a core technology of business and has benefited from intense research and development in the areas of range, spectrum and hardware. Now, there are multiple vendors offering different flavors of wireless capability, making it confusing for any business to invest in a wireless solution for its enterprise. When shopping for a wireless solution, consider these factors.

Controller vs. Controllerless

Many vendors still use a controller-based environment. Similar to a client-server relationship in a network, a wireless access point checks in with the controller and receives instructions from it. The controller sends out heartbeat signals to ensure that the access point is still connected and delivers any policies like device blocking through the device.

Controllerless environments use a cloud-based or hosted controller. This controller is immune, for the most part, to any downtime from outages. True controllerless environments use no controller but lose the benefits of session transfer and a single-cell infrastructure.

Giving Guest Access

The ability to provide guest access to the corporate infrastructure is also another key consideration. When vendors or potential clients are on site, they need to access their emails or company resources without putting your corporate infrastructure in danger. Many Wi-Fi access points come with guest access built in and can provide various configurations, from temporary access to paid access, without having to invest significantly in external software solutions.

Broadcast Control

Wireless access has historically been about broadcasting a signal as far and as powerfully as possible. This leads to the security risk of Wi-Fi bleeding beyond the confines of the building, as well as significant interference from and to the wireless infrastructure. It is still quite common for a microwave to disrupt anyone in the immediate vicinity.

When looking at this feature, find an access point vendor that offers granular control over the strength of the signal and, if possible, on an individual access level point. If you can set your external wall access points to a lower strength, you can reduce the risk of an outside party warpathing on your network.

Also, look at the type of waveform technology the broadcasting uses. Some vendors provide a cone or circular-shaped signal that broadcasts out to all parties, while other vendors use a unibeam technology that locks onto the individual devices and follows them around the area, ensuring they have a strong, singular connection.

Location and Density

A wireless site survey is necessary to properly select and lay out your wireless infrastructure. Some vendors such as Ubiquiti offer a site survey tool that will provide a map and display 2.4G and 5G coverage and saturation. Properly planning your location will ensure you purchase the right number of devices for the coverage you want.

Density is the other factor at play. In any environment, you need to determine how many people could be using it to max capacity. A small coffee shop will have different density requirements than a large retail store, which will have different needs than a school or university. You can generally take the vendor rating for the maximum number of users and divide that in half as a good rule of thumb.

Management

Similar to the cloud controller, you should focus on a cloud-based management console that can give you a “single pane of glass” approach to your wireless network infrastructure. Ideally, a console should have the ability to control devices through allowing or banning them from the network, and the ability to identify the devices is helpful.

Bandwidth throttling and management are must-haves to determine wireless bottlenecks or excessive downloaders. As well, look for the ability to maintain your infrastructure through rolling upgrades, and do your due diligence to ensure that the vendor is providing security updates for its hardware on a regular basis.

Top Enterprise Wireless Access Point Vendor Choices

Every vendor will provide statistics that show why its connections and hardware are the best solutions for your enterprise. The primary wireless vendors — Cisco, Aerohive, Ruckus and Ubiquiti — are all major players in this landscape. Others include Fortinet and HP.

A lot of vendors will provide an integrated platform for their wireless that ties into their security or other hardware infrastructure, so carefully examine if you have already made investments with that vendor in other areas and see if there are benefits to having an integrated platform.

These are the major things you need to consider when purchasing enterprise-grade access points. You still want to consider solutions for security, warranty repairs, and length of warranties. Support is another key area. Check the vendor records for how well its solutions and knowledge base is set up. If it seems shoddy and dated, you may want to consider an alternative.

Wireless access is the key infrastructure for businesses now and into the future and needs to be supported as a basic investment in the organization. If you do all of the work ahead of time in these areas, you can avoid a lot of headaches further down the road. Knowing what to look for when buying is key, so if you are ready, learn which access points are regarded as the top wireless access points for enterprise applications.