This is a guest post from Rick Steiner a Senior Systems Engineer for Airopath, a leading Wireless System Integrator based in Seattle, WA. He has over 25 years in the telecommunications industry with over 15 years designing, implementing and troubleshooting Wireless networks for a variety of clients across diverse verticals in Manufacturing, Distribution, Industrial, Medical, Education, Retail and Office Environments. He holds many certifications from various sources within the industry including Cisco, Aruba, and CWNP.
Let’s face it. With all the new technologies ingrained into the new WLAN systems of today it’s really tempting to turn on all the features and start using the new system to its fullest extent. But let’s hold off and think about this. True, there are plenty of advantages gained with today’s advances in WLAN hardware and capabilities; however, hardware refreshes of the devices that connect to the network don’t typically coincide with the infrastructure refresh projects.
A few of my clients recently upgraded their WLAN infrastructures to the most recent hardware. At the same time, they changed their use cases for the system which increased the AP density since they wanted to migrate to a primarily 5GHz system. This is a good thing and the trend in the marketplace as well as a recommendation within our industry. No arguments here.
The challenge is the corporate owned devices that were used on the system were older and didn’t support many of the same capabilities of the new infrastructure. All systems are backwards compatible so this isn’t a problem right? Not entirely true. Some older clients may not support the UNII-2 and UNII-2 Extended frequencies. Or you may have mission critical devices that don’t support channel bonding that make up the majority of devices in your network. Or there may be some BYOD units outside of your administrative control that your users just can’t live without.
In one particular case, my client had some devices that were mission critical and could only operate in the UNII-1 and -3 bands; however, they had channel bonding enabled which effectively limited them to four non-overlapping channels in an area populated with at least 20 access points. Since the client devices did not recognize the channels designated as Secondary, at times the bandwidth utilization increased to levels where the units would have trouble communicating. By disabling the channel bonding, the access points in the area used all the available channels within the bands and made the user experience better even though they weren’t transmitting at the higher PHY rates.
As administrators of these systems we must balance capability with functionality. We must keep in mind that having the most up to date infrastructure can occasionally mean we have to tone down the use of the new capabilities in order to ensure the best user experience. Being aware of and understanding the impacts of any of the features we have at our disposal is important to the success of any implementation.
After all, just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should.