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Planning WLAN Operational Support, Part VI

A help desk provides first level support for users. It's the first stop for users having difficulties with the network. Thus when a problem arises, a user should know how to reach the help desk.

The mission of the help desk is to solve relatively simple problems that users may be having and act as a conduit to the rest of the support operations. Help desk staff should mitigate problems by helping the users, not make changes to the network.

When planning the operational support for a WLAN, establish a help desk that can respond to the following:

  • Connection problems. Users commonly call the help desk when having connection problems. People at the help desk should be capable of solving simple connectivity issues, such as assisting the user with configuring their radio card and operating system to comply with the proper service set identifier (SSID), Internet protocol (IP) address, and wired equivalent privacy (WEP) key.
  • Poor coverage. This sometimes occurs because of improper site surveys or changes made to the facility. If coverage is the complaint, then the help desk staff could ask the user to temporarily operate from a different area if possible. Meanwhile, they should introduce a repair ticket for the maintenance group to fix the problem. An access point may have a broken antenna or require rebooting due to a software bug.
  • Poor performance. Occasionally, a user may mention that applications are running too slow. In this case, the help desk will probably need to defer the problem to engineering to find the source of the problem. Possibly, network monitoring may indicate a high occurrence of broadcast packets on the network, which is introducing delays to users. Or, maybe there are too many users active on the network. Major configuration changes or upgrades to new technology may be necessary.
  • Status. The help desk should have up-to-date status on the well-being of the wireless LAN. In addition to telling users that the network is down for a particular reason, more importantly users want to know when the network will be fully operational again. The job of the help desk is to help users, so be sure that status information is available. If a user calls in with a problem, be certain to let them know after it has been fixed.

In most enterprises, integrate the wireless LAN help desk functions into the existing corporate help desk. The company should, however, provide applicable training to the help desk staff to ensure they are ready to support wireless LAN-specific issues. Radio wave propagation leads to impairments, such as interference, which is beyond the knowledge of most existing IT staff.

If the help desk can't solve the problem by working directly with the user, then procedures should be in place to escalate the problems to advanced support functions. As a result, help desk staff should have a communications interface with maintenance and engineering in order to solve more complex problems that arise. In fact, often the help desk alerts maintenance when problems occur, primarily because users first contact the help desk when they have trouble using the network.

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.