With the influx of new technologies and smart devices into the workplace, a solid wireless connection has become a must-have for small and mid-sized businesses. It allows devices like smartphones, computers and printers to access the Internet within seconds through a wireless or wired network connection. Today, most jobs are accomplished online: video conference has become an important channel for SMB owners to communicate with business partners, team members and customers. Offering a fast and reliable WiFi service to your employees and customers can effectively boost your sales and business.
Building a business WiFi network is not as complicated as you might think. With a little planning, you can take your company’s network to the next level. Whether you’re setting up a new business WiFi network or making some overdue updates, wireless access points are definitely your best choice. Highly valued for their flexibility, they allow you to harness the power of WiFi and create a seamless network connection for your business. In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of designing and installing a business network with wireless APs. Even though it’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, we still hope you can get some inspiration from this article.
What is a Business WiFi? (Business V.S Residential Internet)
In order to build successful wireless network infrastructure, you have to figure out what is business WiFi and how it differs from the residential network. In short, business WiFi is an enterprise-grade wireless network that provides WiFi connectivity throughout your company to employees, customers and business partners. It typically comes with faster upload and download network speeds, more advanced features, guaranteed Internet service and uptimes, etc. A robust business network can even provide symmetrical upload and download speeds to deliver a better network connection for video conferencing, file sharing, etc. And clearly, all these features and benefits come with a higher price tag. As the residential network gradually moves towards commercial applications promising to deliver higher speeds at a lower cost, the question comes: since the residential network claims to be as good as the business one, why choose a business-level network over a low-pricing one? How exactly does business internet compare to residential services? So let’s take a closer look at the difference between the business and residential networks:
• Network Speed: Business network speeds are normally two or five times faster than the residential network to allow your employee to get the work done more quickly. Most modern high-speed business networks can support a transmission speed ranging between 25Mbps and 10Gbps to help you run multiple high-bandwidth devices at the same time, while the residential network typically ranges from 1Mbps to 1Gbps. And some ISPs will offer higher network speeds (upload speeds in particular) for business owners than they do for residential users. The average business requires at least a download speed of 25Mbps and an upload speed of 3Mbps.
• Parity: One of the main reasons why the residential network can keep the price down is that although it features an amazingly fast download speed, residential connections can be offered a much slower upload speed since there’s no need to back up the data offsite. In residential applications, it’s the download speed that really matters, especially in online activities like movie streaming, VR gaming and Internet surfing. But if you need to upload large files or use interactive services like VoIP phones, Zoom meetings, etc., a high-speed business network with a superb download speed reaching 1Gbps greatly improves productivity in the workplace.
• Static vs Dynamic IP Address: One of the most obvious differences between a business network and a home network is secure. Business Internet is usually assigned with a static IP address by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) offering a more reliable and secure connection, while the residential Internet usually come with a dynamic IP address that changes periodically using a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). And a consistent IP address helps you to access remote-control tools: so if you have heating or thermal controls in your offices or have security cameras installed on your premises, you can access these controls remotely with a static IP.
Essential Steps for Implementing a Small Business WiFi Network
Setting up a wireless network for your business is a fairly straightforward task. But keep the following essentials in mind as you’re installing your business WiFi network:
1. Evaluate Your Network Requirement
When building a WiFi network for SMBs, you should aim for less network downtime, no network bottlenecks, etc. Before your invest in the wireless access points, you have to clearly outline the requirement of your network. Factors that choosing business internet speeds vary from business to business but must be determined according to the number of devices in use and types of activities to be performed. Evaluating how much speed you need is crucial to your business. As a general rule, you’ll need about 10-15 megabits per person, but with more employees recruited, your network also needs to expand accordingly. And it is important to note that simple tasks like sending emails, web browsing, instant messaging, etc., do not use much bandwidth (1Mbps in approximate), but complex activities such as file sharing, cloud-based programs, and HD video conferencing would require faster speeds of at least 5Mbps.
Is WiFi 6 Necessary for Business Networks?
WiFi 6 is a future-proof technology that promises to deliver faster speeds and less congestion in data networking. In theory, its maximum speed can reach up to 9.6 Gbps, which will be of great help in both commercial and industrial applications, in which a multitude of bandwidth-consuming devices are to be connected. WiFi 6 can account for up to 70% less latency. It can handle a large amount of traffic more efficiently to secure high-speed download and upload speeds for video conferencing, etc. WiFi 6 allows routers to communicate with more smart devices like laptops, smartphones, printers, tablets and even wearables and it also helps to keep the connections stronger even when dealing with tons of incoming traffic. Therefore, to set up a business-grade network, WiFi 6 is definitely a must for bandwidth-consuming devices like All-in-One touchscreen PCs, digital signage, etc.
2. Determine Your Coverage Area
Next, you have to decide where you need Internet access. There is no doubt that everyone wants full WiFi coverage for his or her property to deliver a better user experience, but placing the wireless access points in areas where the network will not be used is just a waste of money. So you have to determine the locations where WiFi networks will be used the most and place the access points in a room that uses a lot of WiFi traffic like the open-area work space and managers’ offices. Similarly, you don’t want to place the AP in a location where there are barely any devices connecting since places like restrooms don’t necessarily need a strong WiFi connection. Take a look around your office and find out where most people want to join the network. The more traffic there is in a certain area, the more priority you should give to installing an access point there.
3. Choose the Right Network Hardware
User experience is crucial when we design and install a business WiFi network. The devices connecting to your network need to be wireless-enabled, of course. For small and mid-sized businesses, you really don’t need that much equipment for the setup. But provided that hardware can also influence the strength and reliability of your business network, it’s important to choose the right equipment as it ensures that you can build a strong and scalable system. The key pieces of a wireless network are the router and wireless APs.
The router is a fundamental device for your network to function flawlessly. It receives the information from the Internet (normally from a modem) and transfers the data packets through the Ethernet cable to the connected device. The network devices often use a network switch or PoE switch as an intermediary device for Internet connections. The WiFi router normally uses the radio frequencies of 900Mhz, 2.4Ghz, 5Ghz, 3.6Ghz and 10Ghz bands to provide Internet access for your smartphone, computer or other appliances. It provides a platform where different devices can communicate with each other.
Placement: The regular WiFi router can only support a transmission range of 45 meters indoors and 90 meters outdoors. While it may seem it’s enough to cover small and medium-sized houses, the obstacles and other sorts of interference inside the house will cause the signals to degrade and result in poor coverage. So you should place your router in a more centralized location that is free from physical obstructions to mitigate the interference.
Which Frequency is the Best for Your Business?
If you want the best coverage from a WiFi router, choose 2.4Ghz over 5Ghz. Even though the 5Ghz router supports a faster network speed, it uses a narrower wavelength to broadcast the signals and it’s more susceptible to physical obstructions, which means it cannot penetrate the wall, door, or desk as well as the 2.4Ghz band does. Moreover, 2.4Ghz is better at delivering signals at a greater distance. Also, if your neighbors are also using the same frequency, you can change your channel to a different frequency to clear up the interference issue.
2) Business-Grade Wireless Access Points
A wireless AP is a piece of network equipment that creates a wireless network connection throughout your company. It can receive and transmit data wirelessly over the Internet. It is the backbone of any wireless network.
Tips on How to Choose the Right Access Points for Your Business
Here are some tips to choose the best wireless access points for your business. Factors that should be taken into consideration are network speed, range, antennas, etc.
Network speed: All wireless devices operate under the wireless standards (802.11) to specify the maximum data rate that can be forwarded per second. 802.11b standard can achieve a maximum data rate of 11Mbps using the 2.4Ghz band, while 802.11n standard can support the multi-channel usage to operate on both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz frequencies with a drastically increased network speed of 150Mbps for each channel. And with the latest wireless standard of 802.11ax, you’ll have access to theoretical network throughput of 10Gbps. But you’d better select the WAPs that communicate with the same wireless standard because while you mix multiple standards at the same network, the overall speed will be affected.
Range: Another obvious consideration is the network range of the wireless access point. A wireless access point with a larger coverage area is of great benefit because it lowers overall expenses since fewer access points are required. Purchasing WAPs with additional coverage areas can reduce costs for businesses. Wireless access points come in different features and benefits, but most business-grade wireless access points are capable of covering an area of up to 400-900 square meters. And the size of your premises will also influence which models you use. A larger office needs a WAP with a larger coverage range.
Antennas: There are a wide variety of wireless access points with different antenna designs. The WAP built with internal antennas is generally designed to be mounted on a ceiling, with the wireless signals projected horizontally and vertically. But a WAP that comes with external antennas will give you more flexibility to adjust the position of each antenna to provide larger areas of coverage in specific directions. And depending on how the WAP sends information through the air, the antennas can be further divided into omnidirectional and semi-directional ones. The omnidirectional antenna can radiate the signals equally in all directions, ideal for point-to-multipoint applications where the AP is placed in the center of the office to provide central communications to devices around it, while the semi-directional antenna is designed for point-to-point communications where the signal is projected to a specific direction, often used to provide a network bridge between two buildings.
How Many Access Points Do You Need?
Knowing how many areas you need to cover is a good start since the WiFi coverage depends largely on the size of your office/property. Having a larger space means more access points are needed. And if you have to expand the network to multiple floors or rooms, more units need to be installed. It’s approximately estimated that one wireless access point can cover an area of 150 square meters in a single-floor area. But if your office is irregularly shaped ( an L, T or H-shaped floor plan), then placing just one access point won’t be enough to cover the entire space. For L-shaped designs, at least 2 access points need to be installed (3 pcs will be needed for T-shaped designs and 4 for H-shaped ones), and the exact number would vary in different scenarios. Physical obstacles like walls, doors, and furniture would block your line of sight to the router and attenuate the signal. So the materials used for these obstacles will heavily affect how many access points you’ll need. If it’s drywall, the signal attenuation rate will only be 2.43 dB, but if it’s made of brick or cement, the attenuation rate will increase to 19.41 dB, and the number of access points needed will increase accordingly.
4. Place the Wireless APs at Proper Locations
The business-grade wireless access points can cover an area up to 450-900 square meters but the real coverage depends largely on your placement. The APs should be placed in an open and unobstructed place, like right in the center of an open workspace. Most wireless access points and routers spread the signal 360°, so it’ll be a good idea to keep them closer to the center of your workspace rather than placing them above the ceiling or next to a wall. And since the wireless signals can be easily impeded by physical obstructions, you should avoid placing the APs in the closet or behind solid metal objects. And it’s a ceiling-mounted AP, try to run the cables above to make sure the signals won’t be affected by any surrounding cables or other construction elements. And as previously mentioned, the wireless access points should be installed where WiFi will be used the most.
Avoid Coverage Overlap if Possible
When designing your wireless network structure, you need to choose the best location for placing your access points to provide maximum coverage for your business. Basically, you can install the WAPs wherever you can but the problem is by doing so, it’ll generate a lot of coverage overlap, which means the coverage area of one wireless access point can overlap with another’s. Inevitably, your business will experience coverage overlap, especially in high-traffic areas if you don’t optimize your access point placement. But overlap can be mitigated and even avoided. Avoid building your access points too close to each other. Whenever it’s possible, you should map out the position of each access point first, and decide the optimal location for each according to their coverage range.
5. Take Advantage of Power over Ethernet
Small businesses with limited electrical infrastructure can benefit from Power over Ethernet (PoE) to allow the date and power to be transmitted to the WAP through the same network cable, so you do not need to run additional electrical wiring across your office, which saves you lots of money and installation time. The usage of PoE has made access point installations relatively easier and more scalable. For example, an IP security camera normally requires one connection for Internet connectivity and another for a power supply, but with a PoE setup, these two connections can be combined into one stream to improve network efficiency.
PoE switch is the best network solution in PoE applications. The most obvious advantage of using a PoE switch is that it offers great flexibility for installation and relocation in places where no power is present, which greatly improves the scalability of network architecture and reduces the costs of the initial investment. The PoE switch is equipped with auto-sensing PoE ports that automatically detect the compatibility of the connected devices to lower the chances of power outages, operation failures, etc., and prevent irreversible electrical damages caused to the PDs. The PoE switch is widely used in different scenarios, from home to office, industry to neighborhood, indoors and outdoors, etc.
The PoE switch provides a centralized power plus network management for your business to help you to manage multiple access points at once. But there are only two or three WAPs that need to be connected. Like any other PSE, it transfers power and data to the PD on the twisted-pair cabling to deliver power and data to the PDs through a single Ethernet cable. And it can also inject the PoE capability into the regular switch and makes the non-PoE network switch work with the PoE devices. It’s of great help when installing a PoE device like the wireless access point in a hard-to-reach area like the ceiling since it features a smaller footprint. Additionally, it can deliver power to the connected devices at a higher throughput when fewer PoE ports are required so as to prevent power loss in long-distance transmission.
Ethernet cables are the key to connecting everything together. Unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cables are one of the most commonly used network cables in SMBs. It’s highly recommended to use Cat5 or Cat5e Ethernet cables to connect the access points to the PoE switch and each other to secure a high-speed data transfer between the computers. Normally, the Cat5 Ethernet cable is capable of transmitting data at speeds of up to 100Mbps, while the Cat5e cable is often utilized in networks that run on Gigabit network speeds and typically costs less than Cat6 or Cat7 cables. And you should use pure copper cables for best which has a greater conductivity, while the CCA cable would generate more DC resistance and therefore create greater power loss.
6. Measure the Signal Strength before Finalizing the Placement
To make sure the WAP offers the best strength wherever you need the connectivity, you have to measure the signal strength at the installation site. You can test your signal strength with your smartphone: Open the Settings on your phone and go straight to the WiFi settings to see the WiFi strength of your network. Or download an app such as WiFi Analyzer where the signal strength will be shown precisely in dBm to help you pick up the ideal installation site. Anything between -67 and -30 dBm will be enough, but once it goes lower than -70 dBm, its performance will start to degrade.