Top 10 Checklist for Your Next Wireless Network Design
“Which model of access point is best for us?” There are lots of important questions which need to be considered first before getting to the details of a piece of hardware.
Here is a checklist of items that need to be addressed before the hardware question to ensure your organization gets a wireless network that meets its long-term needs, and to help avoid unexpected costs and delays in implementation.
This checklist applies to most wireless technologies, including WiFi/WLAN, mesh, digital two-way radio, point-to-point and point-to-multipoint.
Where do you need coverage today and tomorrow? Provisions should also be incorporated into the design for likely coverage expansion in the future. Identify any hard-to-cover areas, such as tunnels, which may require special treatment.
Applications and Devices
What is the wireless network going to be used for? Particularly note the traffic type and bandwidth requirements. Also, identify any specific features which may be required, such as QoS for voice.
What assumptions are you making for the number of users and required bandwidth? A spec sheet that boasts “up to 200 simultaneous users” for a single access point doesn’t make any commitments about the quality of the end-user experience. Good analysis here will ensure that the wireless network delivers when you have 10 users and also when you have your anticipated peaks of 200 users.
How truly critical is this wireless network to your operations? If it is truly mission-critical then the architecture needs to sustain and self-heal through the failure of an individual switch, link or access point. Expect increased cost for this comfort.
What are the power sources for this wireless network? Again, depending on your tolerance for downtime, you may need UPS power backup for multiple hours or days, or to bridge to generator power. Be sure to examine power loads for proper sizing, and if DC or AC UPS will better support the network.
What security requirements does your organization or network demand? It may be PCI for financial transactions, AES for public safety and others, FIPS 140-2 for defence, or something industry-specific such as NERC for utilities.
Where are the various network components going to live? Select appropriately hardened gear if outside or in areas inside exposed to water, dust, etc. Identify intrinsically safe requirements for areas with hazardous explosive gases. And lastly, watch for unique mounting requirements so problems don’t surface in the installation stage.
What will the network be connected to? Wireless networks almost never live in isolation. Determine how it will connect and interoperate with existing networks. Will there be new carrier requirements for MPLS or Internet access, and, depending on the network type, how will users and devices be authenticated?
What is the optimal frequency choice(s)? Depending on the network type, investigate approval requirements for the wireless network for licenced spectrum like 4.9GHz or 700MHz for public safety, 1.8GHz for utilities, or any of the narrowband frequencies in VHF/UHF/800MHz. Even licence-free spectrum like 900Mhz and 2.4GHz requires frequency planning.
How will the wireless network be monitored when it is operational? Determine your monitoring requirements to avoid network downtime, detect security breaches and have the data for capacity planning.
The foundation for a successful wireless network is a disciplined design approach. This should include documented requirements definitions, site surveys, RF engineering, staging, acceptance testing, and installation and commissioning procedures.
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