Over a span of more than two decades, commercial facility managers have seen Wireless Local-Area Networks (WLANs), commonly known as “Wi-Fi”, evolve from a promising technology to something crucial to facility operational efficiency, supporting the needs of employees and customers alike. Yet, despite today’s widespread implementation of Wi-Fi technology, too frequently these networks don’t perform as expected. This can be prevented if facility managers and building owners approach Wi-Fi deployment in three equally important phases: design, build, and maintenance; much like other facility operations.
Commercial facilities from retail shopping malls, to stadiums and everything in between, offer some of the most inspiring and challenging designs seen in any type of construction. Designing the facilities themselves to perform successfully is a complex process and can take several years; the same is true for Wi-Fi design. Facility managers should ensure that their chosen Wi-Fi solution providers have the expertise to properly design and engineer the network. One example of a common design misstep is the “overbuilt” network, with too many access points (APs). When the party responsible for design isn’t up to the task, more APs may seem like the most obvious way to provide Wi-Fi to hundreds or thousands of people who use your facility, armed with connected devices. Unfortunately, this often leads to oversaturation and a host of other unintended consequences, most notably increased costs. Remember, Wi-Fi design is facility specific and thus the engineering resources must be world-class to make it work as intended.
With a proper design in hand, now it’s time to build it. For the inexperienced, Wi-Fi installation in the facility space can be a field of potential landmines. Yet, too often Wi-Fi operators discount the importance and complexity of this important step. The result is that the installation is contracted out to a company that may do a fine job of installing data cabling and core network hardware, but that doesn’t have Wi-Fi expertise. Proper installation of a Wi-Fi network requires expertise in AP placement, antenna orientation, channel configuration, security concerns and more. That’s not all – when the physical installation is complete, the real work begins: testing and tuning the network to ensure it can handle the extreme demands expected of Wi-Fi is a job better left to the experts.
With a successful install completed, the challenge is to maintain it. Contrary to what many believe, Wi-Fi is not a “set it and forget it” technology, and nowhere is this more accurate than in complex facilities. Sometimes a facility can be called on to serve multiple purposes. As an example, a large public venue may host a conference one day, followed by a concert the next day and a fundraiser the day after that. Elements such as seating re-configurations, event equipment moving in and out and the potential for Wi-Fi equipment to be damaged must be considered. Proper maintenance of Wi-Fi must include testing and tuning of the network prior to events, expansions, remodeling and other changes to a facility. Management of the network through remote monitoring ensures repairs, updates and adjustments occur efficiently. These important steps should be trusted to skilled Wi-Fi experts.
Those using your facility increasingly have an expectation that they will be able to enjoy solid Wi-Fi coverage while inside your space. Whether the objective is employee productivity, customer loyalty, or both, leveraging Wi-Fi is a golden opportunity for increased engagement.
By following a design, build and maintain process, you can ensure that Wi-Fi does its job, just like the building itself.
By Deryk Powell, President of Velociti