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How to Win the Mobility Game: Set Up the Right Access Points

Brought to you by The Cisco Innovators Program

Doing business is becoming a mobility game.

Wireless access points are being rapidly recruited to expand Wi-Fi connections.

Why Put Access Points into Play

Last year 33 percent of handset and tablet traffic was offloaded from 3G/4G cellular networks onto wireless LANs (WLANs). By implementing WLAN access points, your business can:

  • Save money. The purchase price of an access point is equivalent to just several months of a 3G/4G data plan. And say goodbye to overage fees.
  • Connect more traffic, and more mobile devices. The maximum bandwidth of 3G is 1.4 Mbps. 4G is 6 Mbps. And that´s without any data throttling. A Wireless-N (802.11n) access point can provide 300 Mbps.
  • Improve voice, data, and video application performance with throughput up to 300 Mbps and traffic management, such as quality of service (QoS), that reduces latency, jitter, and dropped calls.
  • Protect sensitive data by encrypting it and controlling network access.

Access points can perform all these roles--for people working inside or outside a building, walking from building to building, or even working from a field communications vehicle in remote terrain.

Like other utility players, access points combine a variety of capabilities. Following are some guidelines for selecting access points, from three IT experts who work extensively with wireless technologies in small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Performance Level

Access point performance is a function of capacity and coverage.

Capacity: A WLAN can support dozens of users. Their locations, the applications they're using, and the number who are accessing the WLAN simultaneously determines how many access points are needed. Typically the optimal capacity of a Wireless-N access point is a maximum of 20 to 30 simultaneous data clients or 8 to 10 simultaneous IP voice or video clients.

Scott Young, CEO at PennComp, says QoS is an essential access point feature, as is putting voice traffic on its own VLAN. "You can even set QoS to make reading preferable to talking, such as in a class or religious service," he says. PennComp is a Cisco Select Certified Partner that specializes in network solutions and services that offer strategic and process advantages for SMBs.

"When smartphones are SIP clients, we use the access point's QoS profiles for Cisco Unified Communications to optimize the default QoS configurations," says Brett Bowden, systems administrator at Nomad Global Communications Solutions. Nomad, a Cisco Certified Partner, specializes in providing government entities with mobile access to voice, video, and data services over cellular, radio, and satellite systems.

To help ensure top performance for voice, video, and critical data clients, you can use a dual-band Wireless-N Cisco® Aironet® 1040/1140 Series access point to take advantage of load balancing, 802.1 traffic prioritization and multicast filtering, simultaneous 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands, and 40-MHz channeling. Some Aironet access point models also offer ClientLink, BandSelect, and VideoStream technologies.

Coverage: A business-class Wireless-N access point can cover up to 5,000 square feet, depending on its physical environment, power setting, and antenna gain.

Multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antennas use inherent signal reflections to increase range and reduce dead spots; they also enable access points to be deployed more densely to increase WLAN capacity. "You'll find the range of MIMO antennas is tremendous--they increase range by a factor of two or three," says Seth Schmautz, CIO at Nomad.

Some access points can expand Wi-Fi coverage at low cost by operating in different modes. A tiny office may do fine with just a new wireless router which can later serve as an access point. New Cisco Small Business access points can also function as a workgroup bridge, or work together as Wireless Distribution System (WDS) bridges and repeaters.

Coaching and Management

Standalone access points "are designed for small WLANs where simplicity is paramount," says Schmautz. For example, the new Cisco Small Business access points make setup quick and easy with web-based configuration tools. And Cisco AP541N Wireless Access Points feature clustering technology that enables businesses to configure up to 10 of them as a single entity; clustering also improves applications performance and handoff for roaming.

Controller-based access points deliver the advantages of full-featured, centralized management. "Users now expect more from their wireless devices--fewer drops and faster application performance," says Young. "A single controller can do that for 25 access points, such as for the Aironet 1140 Series, by letting you monitor and manage them, or having a Cisco partner do it for you through the cloud."

Security Skills

Preventing unauthorized network access requires a team approach. "The first line of defense is to set up multiple SSIDs (mSSIDs) so that each has its own 802.1q VLAN," says Bowden.

The number of mSSIDs in Cisco Small Business access points ranges from 4 to 16. "Probably dedicate at least one SSID for guests, for Internet use only," he says. "We also typically dedicate a minimum of one VLAN to a SIP server for voice and video."

Other defensive technologies to consider for an access point include 802.1X client authentication, 802.1X access point authentication, rogue access point detection, HTTPS management, and wireless broadcast scheduling.

Encrypting data that travels wirelessly protects against eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks. Access points can implement a variety of encryption protocols; for example, the Cisco WAP4410N Wireless-N Access Point supports Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA2)-PSK and WPA2-ENT.

"We implement WPA2 for all our customers; it just doesn't make sense not to," says Schmautz.

"Even your guest VLAN may require encryption," says Young. "The users may be venture capitalists or other service professionals who are working with your confidential data."

And users of Android, Blackberry, and iOS devices with Cisco AnyConnect® Security Mobility Client software can easily communicate through their VPN connection.

Game On

When you need to improve wireless access or expand your wireless network, Cisco Certified Partners can help your company make winning mobile moves--including technology planning and financing, training, and award-winning ongoing support. Some partners also offer cloud-based managed services.

Next Steps

  1. Find a local Cisco Certified Partner that can help you improve your company's security.
  2. Learn more about Cisco wireless access points for small businesses.
  3. Join the Cisco Innovators Program to continue receiving small business-related articles, videos, and offers. Already a member? Refer a friend.

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