Have you ever heard this contradictory saying? “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Plans – and especially the exercise of planning – helps people determine what to do and when to do it. This applies both in battle and other, less high-stress circumstances where uncertainty awaits.
When deploying wireless local area networks (a.k.a. WLANs), good plans help ward off the “enemies” of WLAN deployment, like cost overruns, ineffective budgeting and inadequate testing. And when the unplanned-for happens, you’ll be able to react effectively.
The role of research in planning a WLAN
Good plans depend on good information. That’s why, all things being equal, the more comprehensively a team scrutinizes a situation requiring a WLAN, the more likely the deployment will lead to a WLAN that meets an organization’s needs.
This post organizes the required research into three separate areas:
- Find important stakeholders
- Gather requirements from stakeholders
- Audit network infrastructure
These areas of research will obviously overlap in places, but that’s a good thing – because you can cross-check individual facts in more than one place.
If need be, you can separate these plans using other criteria to fit your particular circumstances. Feel free to add questions too! Do what’s required to thoroughly understand the project before you buy your first network component.
Your first step in designing your WLAN is to find the right stakeholders to talk to. The initial checklist should include people like the CIO, IT directors or managers and any heavy network users. This last group – heavy users of the organization’s network – can come from people in the first two groups, if you ask them.
This is important: don’t be afraid to ask about information you might not initially have. Ask about the right people to canvas. In this case, names and job titles may arise that help you develop a more complete picture of their WLAN needs.
Gather WLAN requirements from stakeholders
Approach individual stakeholders with questions they can answer best. The list below offers a list of sample questions that commonly elicit valuable insights.
Not every stakeholder can answer every question, so use your judgment. If a stakeholder can’t answer a specific question, ask that person who can.
- What are your top uses for network-connected applications? (This question lets people answer – in a non-technical way – about work habits that the WLAN must support)
- Do you move around the office when you work? (Some people may work on a tablet while walking from one part of a workplace to another while others remain stationary).
- What is your BYOD policy? How does this policy affect the number of devices that regularly connect to your network?
- What else affects the number of devices that regularly connect to your network?
- How many devices will connect to the network? (Logs from a network management system may provide information you can use to forecast this answer)
- Who else should I talk to about the WLAN? (This one is worth repeating more blatantly)
- What types of Wi-Fi radios will devices use to connect to the network? (Plan for both backward and forward compatibility where appropriate)
- What applications will people use on the network? (This question never gets old)
- Where is Wi-Fi coverage needed? (In other words, is it needed over every square foot of the premises or can the client afford to exclude certain areas)
- Must Wi-Fi be available in areas that aren’t commonly covered? (This is another way to ask the question above – you can ask this regarding places like storage rooms, tunnels and stairwells)
- Will such areas require high-bandwidth equipment, or will people only use communications apps in these places?
- Does a campus layout call for Wi-Fi outdoors, between buildings?
- Must access points (APs) blend in with décor? (If they do, budget for proper enclosures)
- What future network capacity requirements are foreseen?
This list does not cover every circumstance, but you can use this list as a jumping-off point and add questions as you need to.
Stakeholder savvy can help you plan a more comprehensive infrastructure audit that covers areas like the following:
- Initial cost of network components (you need to know how many and what types of APs to use in what places)
- WLAN installation costs and timelines
- Total cost of WLAN ownership (the investment required for installation and maintenance will vary from one location to the next)
- Existing wiring (the more cables are already in place, the less you need to spend on connecting APs)
- Distance of APs from the nearest network closet.
- Whether existing switches can power more APs
Again, this is far from a comprehensive list. Add whatever questions apply to your project.
Information like this helps you develop more accurate project timelines and budgets. The whole picture improves the probability of success for any WLAN initiative.
And if the plan misses anything, you’ll be better able to adapt and still deploy a winning WLAN!
Here at Datavalet, we’ve done the legwork required to enable numerous successful WLAN deployments. That’s because we offer Wi-Fi assessments and infrastructure setup to our clients. Let us know if you have any questions about the research that goes into WLAN planning. We welcome your call!