Upgrading Your Wireless Network? Don't Forget About Your Switching

Written by Danny Mareco Danny Mareco | March 1, 2017 | Read Time: 5 mins

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These days businesses and organizations of every shape and size care about three things when it comes to their wireless networks:

  • Performance
  • Reliability
  • and Security

This makes complete sense, you need a high-performing network to support bandwidth heavy applications and increasing device numbers.

Reliability makes sense because consistent network access is expected no matter where, when or on what device (user satisfaction is a big deal these days).

And finally, security, because without proper security the first two areas are at risk and so is everyone else from the threat of crippling data breaches and malicious cyber attacks.

Learn more about IoT security and how to properly secure your network here

With all of that said, what doesn't make sense is that when we're trying upgrade our wireless networks to accomplish those things we often forget about our wired infrastructure.

In terms of this blog we want to focus specifically on wifi performance, reliability and your switching--what it does and why you can't forget about it during your next WLAN upgrade.

What are switches?

Simply put, switches are the gate-keepers or traffic cops of your wireless network.

Their basic functionality is directing traffic where it's supposed to go while at the same time keeping traffic from going where it's not supposed to go.

Back in the old days (before switching) we had hubs, where traffic would go into a box, and that traffic would bounce around inside of that box until it found a way out.

Hubs essentially would replicate a lot of additional traffic that just wasn't necessary, making it very inefficient, and all around not a good solution.

Thankfully today we have switches, where the process has evolved since the days of hubs and goes like this:

Traffic goes into a switch, the switch looks at that traffic and identifies in the packet header where that traffic is going.

Since the switch keeps a table of everything that's on the network and what's connected to it's other ports, it can understand where to send that traffic.

For example, if where the traffic needs to go is on port 1 the switch can see this and will direct that traffic out through port 1 because that's where it needs to go, and not through any other ports on that particular switch.

So again, in a nut-shell, it's like a cop directing traffic.

Why is this important?

For starters, this "traffic-cop" functionality minimizes the unnecessary replication of traffic across your network, which in-turn decreases the amount of traffic or noise that's occurring on the broadcast domain.

Switching is essential to:

  • Make the flow of traffic more efficient
  • Ensures traffic is getting to where it needs to go
  • And it cuts down unnecessary traffic

How does my switching infrastructure impact my wireless network?

When it comes to your wireless network and it's overall performance, you're trying to minimize or prevent any types of bottlenecks or choke points from occurring.

Part of that is making sure your switching infrastructure is part of the solution and not part of the problem i.e. they can properly support your edge devices.

For example, supporting your access points. If you're going to deploy a new wireless network that has 802.11ac access points and you plug into a switch port that only supports 10/100 not gigabit that could potentially cause a bottleneck.

Or if your access points require PoE+ and your switch is PoE only this can cause an issue because you won't have enough power to power both radios on your APs.

Watch the video below to learn what impacts 802.11ac capacity in under 2 mins!

Essentially what it all boils down to, is you could deploy the best wireless system--the best products available into your environment and if the platform it's running on (your wired infrastructure or wired network) isn't up to standard, your new or upgraded wireless network is going to perform poorly.

A real-world example

Not too long ago, a college came to us to put in a new wireless system at their campus.

We should note that he core of the network was already in place, we were there to just put in the wireless as an overlay.

Anyway, it finally came time in the Wi-Fi engineering process to start testing the system and we we're a bit concerned at first because we we're getting such slow speeds and didn't quite understand why.

We had great data connection rates of 300 megabits on the wireless, clean signal where we could ping the AP or the controller, however, once we got beyond that infrastructure and started heading out towards the gateway to the internet where we were trying to get to, we hit a major choke point or bottleneck.

We quickly realized that the issue was that this particular college had a 10Mb hub!

It didn't matter how big their pipe was or how good their wireless product was, or even the WLAN design for that matter, that hub (not even a switch) was causing everything to be choked down to 10Mb.

We replaced the hub with a proper switch and instantly everything started performing as it was designed and required to do.

So, as you can see from that one quick example your wired infrastructure (in this case your switching) clearly has a major impact on your wireless performance.

Final thoughts

Performance, reliability, security--the three things every business demands from their wireless network.

There are many moving parts that all have to come together just right to be successful. Your wired infrastructure is a critical part of that system.

However, you can't let the word wired throw you when it comes to wireless or just assume since you have a ton of bandwidth coming into your building or campus misguide you on the importance of making sure your wired network components like your switching are up to par.

It should be standard practice to address your wired network when upgrading your wireless network. However, not every WLAN design is created equal meaning not every wireless service provider is at the same level.

Wireless networks are complex and take a lot of experience and skill to get it right, as much as it's important for whomever you partner with to navigate the process correctly and ask the right questions, so too should you. Here's a great blog that will give you some insights on what to look for when choosing the right wireless service provider.

As for your switching and your wireless, just make sure you don't make the mistake of letting it be forgotten.

At SecurEdge, we provide the platform to deliver a reliable, robust, and secure wireless system – it’s all we do. If you have any questions or would like to discuss an upcoming project, please contact us here.

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