How the changing workplace is impacting Wi-Fi networks – Part 1

Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous in daily life and most employees never give it a second thought. They simply expect their Wi-Fi networks to be available, fast, stable, consistent and secure, whether they are at their own desk in the office, roaming around the workspace, or participating in a video conference or face-to-face meeting. And, with the added dimension of bring your own device (BYOD) schemes, employees also expect the wi-fi network to be equally accessible to all platforms and device types.

While employees have their own expectations, organisations need the corporate network to support and enable their business aims, letting employees make the most of their skills and experience and, above all, supporting them to get their work done. More than that, it needs to be able to protect sensitive data on customers, prospects, employees and intellectual property, and provide seamless, secure connectivity.

Below are three of the seven ways the changing workplace is impacting Wi-Fi networks:

1. Employee expectations

The consumer experience of sitting in cafes and other public hotspots has taught employees to expect seamless, ‘go anywhere’ networking. Yet, while the occasional slow patch or drop-off might be acceptable in a crowded cafe or at a railway station or airport, they are major irritants and obstacles in the workplace. The corporate wi-fi network needs to be faster, better, more reliable, more secure, more consistent and more robust than a public wi-fi hotspot, and failure to provide these superior levels of service may turn the workplace into a “notspot” for employees.

2. BYOD and different devices

BYOD schemes are a further consideration in wireless site design. BYOD lets staff work more flexibly, intuitively and productively from their preferred platforms and devices, while minimising the organisation’s capital expenditure and the constant upgrade cycle of fast-depreciating hardware and software. However, upfront planning and design are essential for successfully integrating different types of devices with the corporate WLAN, which also demands real insight into wi-fi capacity and coverage. Understanding the devices themselves is equally important. Overall, organisations need to be in the driving seat of this more employee-centric view of communications and IT.

3. Wi-fi trends

More and more workplaces solely offer Wi-Fi access. However, all Wi-Fi networks still end in a wire. This last and least visible part of the network is, traditionally, the least well served by many network monitoring and management tools. That, too, is a challenge for IT professionals, who need access to dedicated, expert tools and to follow professional best practices. The trend towards wi-fi-only access will likely continue, now that the 802.11ac high-speed networking standard offers multi-station connectivity at data transfer speeds of up to one gigabit per second. The standard is gaining traction in many workplaces, where data volumes and speeds can only rise in the years ahead. But faster access and throughput also means the risk of faster and more extensive data breaches if IT professionals and network engineers fail to consider the full security implications of unmonitored access.

Next week, we will discuss four more ways on how the changing workplace is affecting Wi-Fi networks.

Amit Rao, Director – APAC channels, NETSCOUT

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