How to Bulletproof the Internet Connectivity in Your Office Roaming access points will prevent Wifi dead spots in your building.
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Do you dread going into work because of the terrible internet connectivity? Is it hard or frustrating to work when pages take seconds to resolve, instead of milliseconds? The problem is likely not the internet itself; it's the hardware used to broadcast it throughout your office.
It's easy to want to skimp on internet hardware. After all, a full IT department is expensive, and a lot of MSPs are no better. A home network is easy to set up; why not just buy a few pieces of hardware from the local office store and set up the office too?
In addition to the potential security issues, setting up home networking hardware for a commercial use generally won't cut it. This is even worse when your office sprawls across multiple floors or has to pipe WiFi through brick walls.
Weak signal strength or spotty connectivity is one of the most common internet-related problems an office can face, and there are all kinds of devices aimed at solving it. Range extenders and repeaters are common, but they often do more harm than good.
The problem with a range extender or a repeater is two-fold. First of all, they tend to cause additional latency. It makes sense, right? A signal going from point A to B to C by definition takes longer than a signal direct from A to C. The other half of the problem has to do with how devices connect to a network. When a device connects to a network, particularly a wireless network, it saves the information for that network so it can connect automatically again. This is why your phone can automatically use office WiFi without needing to switch away from a home signal.
When you use a repeater, you have two signal sources broadcasting the same network information. Your device tries to connect to the network, and will preferentially choose the device with the highest signal strength. Wireless signal isn't consistent, though; power fluctuations, usage and other factors can disrupt a signal temporarily. When that happens, often your device will attempt to switch to the other, temporarily stronger source of the network. This switching can cause issues with connection stability and latency.
Another problem that is increasingly common with wireless networking these days is signal clutter. There are only so many channels a wireless signal can use, as designated by the FCC. When there are a lot of local offices, businesses, apartments or homes broadcasting their own wireless networking signals, it muddies the waters. So many competing signals causes interference with each other -- and with your networking.
How do you solve these problems and make absolutely certain your wireless networking is fast and reliable for your whole office?
The best solution involves stringing ethernet cables from your source to specific areas in your office. A hard-wired solution is infinitely more reliable than wireless repeaters. You can set up wireless access points in each location to broadcast the signal locally. To determine specifically where those access points should be located, you can contact a telecom or MSP for a wireless site survey.
Of course, running hard-wired connections throughout your office isn't always possible. In older office parks, it can be difficult or impossible to run cable through the masonry walls. Running cable under the floor or above a drop ceiling may be possible, though you can encounter fire code issues if you have to pass through walls or floors. Running cables in the open is unprofessional and can be a hazard if someone trips. You can run conduit along walls above eye level, though that's not always an ideal solution either.
Even with a hard-wired solution, you can't simply plug all of those access points into a router. At minimum you will likely need an ethernet switch capable of accepting and passing along traffic from dozens of distinct connections at once. Depending on the level of security you're enforcing for your business, you might also want a hardware firewall, but that's more of a security issue than a connectivity issue.
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Keep in mind, when you're researching solutions to connectivity issues, that most solutions you'll find are aimed at residential users. Wireless repeaters are fine for stringing a connection up to a child's bedroom. Power line broadcasting can work in some circumstances, but is far from an adequate commercial solution. It's well worth the investment to purchase high quality hardware, commission a site survey, and plan out connectivity coverage before you even begin to set up or overhaul your network.