WLAN services: Seven factors to consider when deploying and managing a WLAN

To best meet your customer's expectations when deploying and managing a wireless LAN, you should consider what are the customer's true needs, the physical parameters of the network, security and more, as outlined in this tip.

After convincing a client to deploy a WLAN, it is up to you to deliver what you've promised. There are seven basic factors you should consider when planning the design, deployment and management of a WLAN in order meet your client's expectations. Though the specifics will vary with each project, the basic process remains the same.

  1. The first question that deployment and design of a wireless LAN brings up is: what does the client need? This is not necessarily what they think they want. Your job is to ascertain what, specifically, the WLAN will be used for and then fulfill those specifications. Talking to end users as well as management may help you learn what those specific needs entail.
  2. Once the client has agreed to the overall network specifications, consider the physical parameters of the network. A site-specific survey is vital for this. The survey should be designed to give you the possible parameters for the network. For example, the survey should include finding out what other wireless networks are present in range of the site (by using a self-contained network detector), and whether or not they will interfere with your client's WLAN. It's a simple matter to choose a non-interfering channel for operation if you know that other possibly interfering networks are in operation. The survey should also allow you to gain insight about the number and kind of wireless access points (AP) that are needed to cover the site.
  3. How the wireless access points hook up to the client's Internet routers is also an important design point. Usually, the 'star' topology is used; which means that the router is in the center of the network and has a direct connection to each of the access points. This ensures that if hardware failure occurs in a single AP, the remainder of the network remains functional. Ring topology (where each AP connects to the next with the injecting router part of the circle) may also be considered in situations where appropriate.
  4. Remote management of a wireless network is usually simple. Most APs can be accessed by way of a Web browser. Once you log in via a user name and password (remember to always change these from the default!), you can set various operational parameters. The specific parameter settings will depend on the network environment, but most likely will not vary greatly from AP to AP.
  5. The security of a wireless network depends on these AP settings as well. If no security protocol is enabled, anyone can join the network and (by extension) whatever LAN the AP connects with. Now, this may be just what the client desires. However, enabling WEP or WPA or WPA2 in the AP means that a password is required for access and the wireless data stream is encrypted. Each of these protocols is fairly weak by cryptographic standards and can be defeated with some effort, but they do impede the casual user from mistakenly joining a network.
  6. After installation, the network needs to be monitored for usage by both approved and rogue users. Monitoring approved users provides an indication of whether the WLAN is meeting its design goals in providing usable bandwidth. For example, you may find that 802.11b users slow the entire network down for 802.11g users, indicating the need to create a homogenous network from the client side (everyone gets upgraded to 802.11g hardware).
  7. Rogue users (and the installation of rogue AP hardware by authorized users) can be a massive headache. Unauthorized usage of the network ("leeching") may or may not be tolerable to the client, but you must be able to discover unauthorized users who bypass the security measures in place. Intrusion detection software can play a great role in this effort.

In short, WLAN creation shares many characteristics with deploying and managing a wired LAN. Having clear goals as to how the WLAN should perform in use will minimize wasted efforts.

About the author
Larry Loeb has been online since the world revolved around {!decvax}. He's been in many of last century's dead tree magazines about computers, having been a Consulting Editor to the late, lamented BYTE magazine, among other things. You can reach him at larryloeb@larryloeb.com.


 

This was first published in September 2006
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