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Planning WLAN Operational Support, Part V

A company having a wireless LAN should establish a reengineering function that assesses needs for changes and defines corresponding solutions. Engineering of course is a critical task when initially designing a WLAN, but it's also very important to have available on an ongoing basis. Engineering and maintenance plays together in a way that lengthens the life of a WLAN.

The staff for engineering tasks may consist of "gurus" working directly for the company, most likely within the IT group. Especially after having a wireless LAN for a number of months or years, employees of the company can become experts in understanding the applicable technical aspects. In most cases, however, the engineering function will likely be an initial outsourcing venture.

When planning the operational support for a wireless LAN, ensure there's an engineering capability to perform the following tasks:

  • Advanced problem resolution. Because of the nature of WLANs, difficult-to-solve problems will likely arise. Users may have periodic loss of connectivity that causes applications to malfunction, or interference may inflict significant loss of throughput. In these cases, engineers may be necessary to anlayze the problems and make recommendations on how to proceed with a solution.
  • Coverage expansion. Companies occasionally expand the reach of the WLAN to cover new areas. This generally requires engineering input to determine the effective placement and channel settings for access points.
  • Capacity increase. In the early days of the life of a WLAN, the number of users is normally much lower than the total available capacity. As time goes, however, the company will probably deploy additional applications that increase the utilization of the WLAN. It's important to have network monitoring in place to watch throughput levels and engineer upgrades to the network when needed in order to handle ongoing needs to support a greater number of users.
  • Firmware review. Within the maintenance function of operational support, technicians may find it necessary to upgrade the firmware of access points. Before making the upgrades, though, engineering should first test and evaluate the new firmware. This certifies that the changes being made will not adversely affect the network.
  • Technology upgrade. Continually monitor the evolution of WLAN technologies and products to ensure effective migration in a manner that meets growing network utilization. For example, the engineering function should proactively review the potential upgrade from 802.11b to 802.11a or 802.11g. A change in technology should only be done, though, after careful deliberation.
  • Design review. The engineering function should also be involved in reviewing and verifying compliance of new designs with the common architectural design of the WLAN. This avoids haphazard expansion of the network that might have led to a network consisting of non-interoperable parts, such as the deployment of 802.11a-only access points with some users just have 802.11b radio cards. A design review involves examining requirements and making certain that the requested changes fully satisfy requirements. In fact, it might be necessary from time-to-time to reassess requirements as the company moves forward.

Stay tuned! In part IV of this series, we'll take a look at establishing a help desk for wireless LANs.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers training focusing on wireless LANs.