10 Steps to Guarantee Wi-Fi 6 Success
We've been hearing the hype about Wi-Fi 6 for years: the speed and agility it will give organizations to keep pace with employee and customer demands in a mobile-centric world. But the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 are all for naught if your switching architecture, approach to wireless design and general mode of operating don't evolve.
Make sure you've taken these critical — and often overlooked — steps before deploying Wi-Fi 6 so you can reap the technology's full rewards.
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Have you conducted a thorough inventory of your wireless local area network (WLAN) hardware? What about associated software code? Do this to determine which of your existing investments can be leveraged with Wi-Fi 6. There's no need to spend money where you don't have to.
This is a blind spot for many organizations. Did you know that several leading OEMs have changed their WLAN licensing plans for Wi-Fi 6 products? As you evaluate different Wi-Fi 6 vendors, make sure to inspect how they're licensing the technology. Check for feature parity and migration costs. Otherwise, you risk incurring unnecessary costs, losing critical features or both.
Access layer switching
Wi-Fi 6 gives you blazing throughput, but only if your cable infrastructure and access switching layer is prepared to keep up. For example, many enterprise networks are still using Cat. 5e, which isn't compatible with Wi-Fi 6. If you don't make necessary Layer 1-2 upgrades, such as cabling and adequate Layer 2 switching, you could have severe bottlenecks in performance.
Access point (AP) placement
Unfortunately, deploying Wi-Fi 6 access points isn't as simple as swapping out your old APs. Simply performing a one-for-one replacement won't guarantee that you're meeting coverage and capacity requirements. A radio frequency (RF) design is a must before you deploy your new Wi-Fi 6 APs.
A huge benefit of Wi-Fi 6 is its ability to help business units utilize internal services faster and deliver exemplary customer experiences at the branch. That's why it's especially important to connect with each business unit to determine what their wireless requirements are today, and where they're headed in the future. At a bare minimum, you'll want to capture their major wireless use cases and critical applications.
One tricky aspect of Wi-Fi 6 is figuring out how users will maintain session connectivity when switching from a Wi-Fi 6 network to a cellular one. Passpoint is the Wi-Fi Alliance Standard for cellular, and Wi-Fi interoperability and each WLAN OEM will have their own "Passpoint solution." Will the majority of the endpoint devices you support be able to utilize an OEM's Passpoint solution? Does their solution integrate with your cellular carrier(s)? Make sure to get answers to these questions before selecting a WLAN vendor.
Today's Access Points can carry multiple radios, including Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Zigbee. Many applications utilize these radios plus the Wi-Fi to help determine an accurate location for devices.
Mobile application platform
The throughput speed of Wi-Fi 6 means more opportunity for your network to support bandwidth-intensive applications. It's the perfect time to take an inventory of your enterprise's mission-critical mobile applications. You'll want to determine how much bandwidth they'll need today but also future requirements as new features are added. As part of this process, you'll want to determine which applications are "hungriest" for location updates.
Real-time location services for assets and staff, wayfinding, and analytics are a few of the many examples of Wi-Fi "extensions" that organizations rely on to conduct their daily operations. The extensions are part of every WLAN OEM's partner ecosystem and solutions or they are separate applications that depend on your Wi-Fi solution to work. Make sure you have reviewed the potential extensions your organization needs, their requirements and their integration levels of effort.
Create a checklist of the skills and training that may be required for your staff to ensure your team is prepared to support your new Wi-Fi 6 solution. While Wi-Fi 6 is a standard, and the OEM solutions are standards based, they can and do come at the same issues from very different perspectives. These differences are then carried through in the training on the various solutions. As an example, just because I have been fully trained on Cisco WLANs does not necessarily mean that I can architect, deploy and maintain an Aruba WLAN out of the box.