Is your wireless LAN ready for real-time communications?

Is your wireless LAN ready for real-time communications?
For many organizations, the wireless local-area network (LAN) has taken a backseat to its hard-wired counterpart. But today, thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones, laptops and tablets, an ever-growing number of users need access to the corporate network via a wireless connection. In most cases, however, the wireless LAN simply isn’t ready for prime-time. If that’s the situation at your organization, you are not alone. Recently, Cisco released its Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, which revealed some rather startling predictions:
  • By 2015, there will be 788 million mobile-only Internet users.
  • Also by 2015, global mobile data traffic will increase by a factor of 26. Yes, 26.
  • Work mobile data grew by a factor of 2.5 from 2009 to 2010. During that same time period, average smartphone use doubled from 25M per month to 79M per month.
Needless to say, as users come to rely increasingly on mobile devices to access data, they will be expecting more from your wireless network. Plus, it’s not just the number of devices accessing your network that will increase. The mix of applications has already changed dramatically in the last several months, and will continue to grow more bandwidth-intensive in the coming years. For example, a year ago, your mobile users might have hit the network to check e-mail or download web pages that were primarily text with a few graphic images. Now, however, users are relying on the wireless LAN for video, voice and unified communications solutions. Unfortunately, even in companies that have installed a wireless LAN, a wide range of problems can hamper productivity. Meru Networks, which specializes in wireless networking equipment, has identified these challenges for many companies with wireless LANs:
  • If the wireless network does not perform in a manner close to flawless, applications cannot operate properly.
  • IT wireless expertise may not be on site or easily available.
  • Wireless coverage must be pervasive.
  • If a wireless problem comes up, users may not be able to plug in to access the network. Either wired ports were eliminated to save money, or wires could not be run without getting in the way.
So how can your organization prepare for the dramatic rise in wireless traffic?
  • Plan for coverage and throughput. Simply placing a few wireless access points in your facility likely won’t provide the coverage you need. Fortunately, there is better, more effective equipment on the marketplace than ever before. In addition, examine your current throughput and imagine how it might change over time.
  • Consider identity and policy based network access control. For better productivity, your team members and some vendors need access to the network via wireless devices. For the best in both security and productivity, find a solution that will allow your IT team to grant wireless access to applications, the Internet and other portions of your LAN based on specific policies that can easily be changed, upgraded or downgraded.
  • Manage guest access. Devise your system in such a way that authorized guests can have public Internet access, without putting your applications and data at risk. In addition, non-authorized users should be kept off the network completely with adequate security protocols.

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