Written by Brian Wollak, Senior Wireless Architect/ Wi-Fi Evangelist
Brian Wollak is a wireless expert that has more than a decade of experience in wireless technology. His experience includes all facets of wireless, from design, delivery, troubleshooting to conducting site surveys as well as building resilient, secure wireless networks. He has a plethora of experience in delivering Wi-Fi in a variety of settings and verticals. Some include medical manufacturing clean rooms, hospitals, the space industry, school districts, and transportation to name a few. He holds two MBA’s. One from UCLA, Anderson School of Management and the other from National University of Singapore.
To follow Brian Wollak on Twitter @LukeStellar
Proof that technology never sleeps is that just a few years ago Wi-Fi 5 was all the rage. Consumers, school districts, government centers, educational institutions all welcomed higher speeds and the benefits of 802.11ac. Some were early adopters and chose to deploy wave 1 access points, others were a little more pragmatic and waited until 802.11ac wave 2 was introduced. My feeling is the same will occur with the latest and greatest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ax. There are always early adopters both from manufacturing wanting to get a jump on the market and from consumers of the market. Each segment wants to be an early adopter to capture the benefits of Wi-Fi 6.
Some manufacturers will go to market with pre-standard Wi-Fi 6 and others will be certified through the Wi-Fi alliance, like Alcatel-Lucent OmniAccess Stellar AP1320 and AP1360. The Wi-Fi Alliance ensures interoperability and Wi-Fi 6 access points meet the stringent requirements. This should make you more comfortable with its capabilities.
Wi-Fi 6 will be more quickly adopted than Wi-Fi 5. It will also be introduced in wave 1 and wave 2 variations just as Wi-Fi 5. Although I believe Wi-Fi 6 adoption will be much quicker because of the tangible benefits that it offers. Who wouldn’t want, the ability to color your basic service set, use spatial streams more efficiently with spatial re-use, and the huge benefit of OFDMA and MU-MIMO both downstream and upstream, as well as longer device battery life due to its target-wake-time? This combination delivers a knock-out punch to better support clients in dense environments such as stadiums, college campuses, lecture halls, conference centers, K-12 schools as well as meet the heavy demands of enterprise businesses.
Wi-Fi 6 environments require more than high-performance access points. All that wireless traffic has to get dropped on a wire somewhere. So, the question is how will you prepare your network to have an exceptional performing Wi-Fi 6 environment?
Here is a step-by-step guide to help you navigate a deployment and ready the network for the onslaught of Wi-Fi 6.
1- Conduct an edge switch inventory to ensure your switches support PoE+
Wi-Fi 6 access points require more power to unleash its full potential. Where 802.3af was sufficient in some cases, with prior AP releases supporting older protocols. The 802.11ax AP’s have added more capabilities and is more feature rich, as Captain Kirk once said, “more power” is needed. Make sure your switches support 802.3at, POE+ that will deliver 30W per port. Also check your POE+ budget to ensure the 802.11ax AP’s are fully operational. But don’t worry if you have to install an OmniAccess Stellar AP1320 on an 802.3af port, the AP will still work, but at a reduced capacity. To fully benefit from supporting more spatial streams, it is recommended to have POE+ available for the new AP’s. If you find your edge switching doesn’t support PoE+, now would be a good time to contact your Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise sales representative to order a OmniSwitch 6860E.
Because of the additional bandwidth capacity of the OmniAccess Stellar AP1320 you want to make sure your network is free of any bottlenecks, especially your edge switches that connect to the AP. Many Wi-Fi 6 access points support 803.3bz like the OmniAccess Stellar AP1320. 802.3bz makes it possible to support 2.5Gbps on Cat6 and Cat5e cable. Now would be a good time to check your cable infrastructure to ensure your APs and switches support N-Base-T. The additional dense client support and additional bandwidth is best utilized when operating at full capability, just as the POE+ recommendation.
While we systematically inventory edge switching to ensure they support both POE+ and N-BASE-T, it is also necessary to identify if there are bottlenecks from the edge to the distribution switches. It is recommended that edge switches have at least 10Gbps uplinks to the distribution switches, although if you find yourself in the need of purchasing new switches and you want to prepare for the future, the recommendation would be 40Gbps uplinks to the distribution layer.
2- Have a robust Service Defined Network that is loop free.
In my career I have seen the worst of what spanning tree can do to a network.
It can bring an enterprise to its knees and in complex networks takes hours or days to find the issue. This potentially may cost a company thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity and revenue. It also makes some very long days for the network team.
The best advice is to install Alcatel Lucent Enterprise Shortest Path Bridging capable OmniSwitch product lines that will ensure your network performs without loops and has the efficiency and capacity to use all connected links. This is one of the main advantages of having your network run SPB. Unlike spanning-tree, all links are capable of forwarding traffic at the same time. It’s like doubling your capacity without having to replace your cable infrastructure. To do this you just need to identify the services on your network and make changes to the service on the edge. This makes getting a promotion easier and the network team will be extremely happy by removing some of the time. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of SPB, it is a standard protocol, IEEE 802.1aq and has a number of benefits including a distributed link-state protocol. Not only is a distributed LAN architecture an advantage but also on the WLAN as well.
3- Distributed Wireless Architecture
While others are making their wireless controllers handle the higher bandwidth requirements, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise is separating itself by offering a distributed wireless architecture throughout its WLAN portfolio.
This not only means that you are paying for one less piece of equipment by deploying a controllerless architecture but also saving money in maintenance because a controller is not required. Management loves saving money and operating efficiently.
The value of a distributed architecture is not only cost-savings but also knowing your APs are robust enough to make decisions of air-time fairness, band-steering, auto-channel selection, and auto-power selection. There are no additional packets flowing through your network causing congestion or having to rely on a central nerve center to make all the wireless decisions. Why not have APs powerful enough to manage themselves by building their wireless neighborhoods and making adjustments accordingly? Not only they make adjustments accordingly, but they also offer rogue detection as well. We should always put security at the forefront of our networks. This is why the OmniAccess Stellar AP1320 has a dedicated radio for scanning the network.
OmniAccess Stellar Access Point Portfolio can adapt to your network requirements. They can be deployed three different ways, as a cluster of a maximum of 256 access points in Express Mode. These are managed locally through a primary virtual controller and secondary virtual controller to give you piece of mind of having the critical wireless network always available through high availability. Oh, by the way, this is also automatic. They automatically select the Primary and Virtual Controller. We try to put the “ease” in easy because we know how valuable your time is either as a manager or an individual contributor. We pride ourselves in simplicity, high availability and security to meet the high demands of today’s network but also tomorrow’s even higher demands. All at a competitive price, you don’t have to sacrifice high performance for security.
We also have the flexibility to manage the WLAN and LAN via an on-premise network management system, the OmniVista 2500 NMS. This makes it convenient to have a single pane to manage all of your LAN and WLAN networks, which helps ensure you have consistent policies and configuration throughout your network. I’m sure your network staff will be fond of this as well. Yet another reason to get promoted or to make your life easier.
If you have a cloud initiative, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has an answer to that as well. We offer a SaaS solution called OmniVista Cirrus that has much the same functionality as the OmniVista 2500 NMS which provides secure management of your LAN and WLAN and has the comfort of elasticity with your network management system, you no longer have to worry about management of hardware and software updates.
4- AP Selection
In terms of AP selection, you need to figure out the best tool for the job. Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has you covered if you’re only looking for indoor Wi-Fi 6 coverage with the AP1320 or outdoor the AP1360. The AP1320 comes in two models, the AP1321 which has internal omni-directional antennas or the OmniAccess Stellar AP1322 which is the answer for attaching external antennas to give you the flexibility you need to meet your WLAN objectives, whether you’re a K-12 school district, college campus, hospital, government, transportation or a business.
Figure 1- Access Point 1320
If you are looking for a Wi-Fi 6 outdoor access point, we have an answer as well.
We are one of the leaders in announcing an outdoor Wi-Fi 6 access point to meet the needs of challenging outdoor environments where you need to support a dense client environment. For example, an arena, stadium, green spaces in campuses or smart city deployments or any other outdoor area that you need a high-performance WLAN. We offer the OmniAccess Stellar AP1360 which has a POE+ port to connect an IoT device without having to run an additional cable or use an additional switchport. As long as the AP1360 is powered with 802.3bt capabilities, the additional port can be used for other devices like a security camera. This saves money and time, as well as freeing up a switch port. The AP1360 comes in different varieties that are designed to meet your needs.
5- Wireless Site Survey
After you have identified your access points, it is highly recommended to conduct a physical wireless survey, especially in challenging environments like older buildings, school campuses, and critical environments like hospitals. I always like to tell people it “puts the science behind the science.” The best way to ensure your wireless environment will meet your needs is to conduct a wireless site survey where you measure actual RSSI and SNR of an access point so you know the exact location of where you will mount the APs as well as the performance and coverage of the AP. This accomplishes a couple of things; roaming will be seamless, and your wireless network design will not be based off of predictions but actual data from your environment.
After you have followed this step-by-step guide you will be ready to install a robust, secure, adaptive, high-performing Wi-Fi 6 enabled network that will meet your needs today but also tomorrow. Technology is constantly on the move and so is your organization so let’s work together and accomplish great things.