WiFi networks can provide a great user experience as long as they are expertly designed and are maintained over time. I have come across many networks that bed-in for 1 or 2 years (or less in extreme cases) and then feel like they are becoming sluggish and old. It’s time to call for a WiFi Audit!
An experienced WiFi auditing engineer will have worked with many networks, large and small. Their experience will range right across the lifecycle of systems they have helped build - from conception and design through to troubleshooting existing implementations.
The expert you need to help maintain your system will understand that tools are only an aid to help visualise what cannot be seen. While these tools are important and certainly speed up the process of understanding a system, they are not the silver bullet to ensuring peak performance throughout a wireless networks life-span.
I have seen some engineers work with mechanic-like "44 point checks” when auditing systems. It’s good to see people working through systematic process, with reminders not to skip critical checks that might uncover painful mistakes in configuration or design. Here are some of the fundamental points that I believe need to be included in an audit (this is not an exhaustive list):
• Understanding the business goals that are impacted by WiFi
• Getting out and experiencing the network
• Taking measurements (RSSI, SNR, 802.11 and non-802.11 RF)
• Understanding the concepts behind the initial system design
• Hearing from the users
• Reviewing system logs and configuration
• Building a coherent report
• Making recommendations that will bring value
It is hard to come up with a recommended definitive frequency for WiFi audits - the exception to this is that a yearly audit is a critical minimum. An organisation’s needs can change drastically in a year. Simple trending suggests that user applications are demanding more bandwidth and generally users are working differently to how they did one year ago.
Jim Florwick from Cisco said "Only one thing has remained constant in wireless networking, the persistent need for more”. Jim is a Senior Technical Marketing Engineer. This certainly sounds like a statement that would come out of Marketing. There are many cases where an existing network is sufficient or with some tuning can perform better than it ever has. While I don’t disagree that overall eventually wireless networks need to be updated with the addition of “more” of something, it would be easy to use this statement to sell more Access Points without looking at the viability of the existing system.
So, find yourself an experienced WiFi engineer who can audit your network. Interview them to ensure their suitability. Maybe you could ask them to explain a time they had tried to troubleshoot a problem but only learned of the fault or misconfiguration afterwards - it’s these sorts of experiences that will help you gauge their care factor. Remember, it is experience backed by fundamental knowledge that builds wisdom.
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