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Three things to keep in mind before fully upgrading to Wi-Fi 6

(Image credit: Mediacom)

Today’s organisations are more reliant on their tech infrastructure than ever before. With everything from laptops and phones, to printers, meeting rooms and even the occasional vending machine being a connected device, a strong networking backbone is needed to ensure reliable performance. Yet, these powerful devices all too often aren’t supported by an equally robust network, meaning businesses are not able to enjoy the full benefits of their tech investments. In fact, 48 per cent of employees say they waste three or more hours a day due to inefficient systems. The performance and reliability of these devices have ramifications across the wider business in realising greater efficiency and productivity. To ensure these connected devices are providing their full value to the wider workplace, the latest networking solutions are needed - and this is where Wi-Fi 6 comes in.

Wi-Fi 6 offers numerous technical advantages over previous iterations. More than just faster data transmission speeds, what distinguishes it from previous versions is its advanced connectivity capabilities which enable it to communicate with multiple clients simultaneously. In practice, this allows a far greater number of devices to connect to the network without straining the bandwidth. With over 80 per cent of senior executives across industries believing IoT is critical to their business, it is likely that this number will only increase and create a greater need for Wi-Fi 6’s advanced connectivity. With this in mind, here are three considerations to consider before fully upgrading to Wi-Fi 6.

1. A staggered start

Replacing old technologies can be a disruptive time for the IT and network managers. Configurations may need to be changed on connected devices, employees may need to adjust to new practices, or there may be downtime as the legacy solution is phased out. For those wanting to smooth out the transition, having a staggered roll out may be the best solution. By providing Wi-Fi 6 in limited but key areas at the start, businesses can see how effective it is in practice while avoiding the technical burden of immediately having to deal with a company-wide deployment.

This staggered approach also reduces the financial pressure of completely replacing the entire network infrastructure in one go, and can help identify which business functions will most benefit from the upgrade. The most suitable locations will tend to be high-density areas where the network is crowded and likely currently suffering from poor performance. This could be a reception, lunch areas or meeting rooms where there are a large number of devices needing connectivity simultaneously. Based on the success of these isolated deployments, companies can evaluate the effectiveness of Wi-Fi 6 for their specific use cases and determine when and where further deployments would be of benefit.

2. Multiplying power with multi-band

Another consideration for those wanting to deploy Wi-Fi 6 is how they will make use of its multi-band capabilities. In short, we can think of multi-band networks as a motorway where each band is a lane. As the slow lane we have sub-GHz frequencies, 2.4 GHz is the middle lane, and 5GHz is the fast lane. In a single-band router, only one lane can be used at a time meaning that even if everyone has the ability to drive in the fast lane (5GHz), overall speeds will drop due to congestion caused by slower devices. A dual-band or multi-band router is the equivalent of opening up multiple lanes at once allowing traffic to spread out across them. Each user can use the lane most appropriate for the speeds they need and the overall flow of traffic is improved.

Each of these frequency bands has different optimal use cases that should be considered by the business. 5Ghz is the more common choice as it is faster but it is also less able to penetrate walls and solid objects which leaves it with a shorter effective range than 2.4 GHz. 2.4 GHz on the other hand has a greater effective range but is generally slower and has to compete with other signals at that frequency such as cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, microwaves and smart power meters. In practical terms, smaller, open plan offices are more likely to benefit from 5GHz’s faster speed while the greater effective range of 2.4 GHz may be a better choice for larger offices spread across multiple rooms. However, with the use of multi-band routers, businesses can enjoy the best of both worlds.

3. Clarity from the cloud

With Wi-Fi 6 expanding the functionality of your organisation's networking capabilities, there may be additional burdens in network management that need to be taken into account. Fortunately, cloud-driven networks are available to provide improved security, scalability and flexibility. This is especially relevant for those using a staggered deployment where the scale of their organisation’s network may be changing from month to month. As such, a cloud-driven network manager that can scale rapidly to match the deployed hardware is a boon for IT teams.

Rather than installing or uninstalling necessary hardware across distributed locations as network requirements change, a centralised management platform can be used to adapt to business growth with minimal outlay. This flexible model both reduces the need for additional IT resources and staff, while lowering capital expenses as a single solution can be used across the network. IT staff can also benefit from applying automated control policies in the cloud that can significantly improve security for users as the network uses data-driven decision-making to quarantine threats of restricted access following suspicious activity.

With Wi-Fi 6 representing a marked development in wireless technologies, it is sure to continue seeing wide adoption from businesses over time. As with any big leaps in technology, there are still some decision-makers who are in two minds about implementing Wi-Fi 6 due to concerns about potential teething-problems, expense or, more simply, considering it too drastic a change. However, giving due consideration to the role of a staggered deployment, multi-band and cloud management in the implementation will go a long way in smoothing that transition, minimising costs and reducing these worries. In doing so, they are building network reliable and robust infrastructure today that will prepare them for their connectivity needs in the future.

John Morrison, SVP, International Markets, Extreme Networks