Wireless network configuration encompasses several potential variances between environments. Even in a complex single site, the basics of network configuration required for successful implementation may vary from one wireless network to another running on the same hardware as part of the overall wireless LAN environment.
At the same time, there are some common tasks that go into any successful wireless project, including a number of key network setup steps. Let’s look at the high-level, granular steps wireless professionals should take when implementing enterprise-grade Wi-Fi networks.
Collect network requirements
Before tackling specific network configuration steps, you should understand the operational requirements of the environment.
For example, a large university’s wireless environment has multiple sets of requirements for different paradigms. The guest network requires different configuration steps than the general-purpose secure network. Wireless services enforce goals and policies, but if you don’t set those goals and policies, you won’t know what network configuration steps you need to take.
Design and survey
This is one of the most critical steps in the overall process of setting up a successful wireless network. When you need to tackle the basics of wireless network configuration, a proper survey-based design will show you how to tackle everything from cable placement to discrete settings in wireless LAN (WLAN) hardware.
Neglect this step – or entrust it to unqualified personnel – and it can lead to expensive touch-ups.
Implement WLAN Components
This is where the wireless network configuration steps that have been defined by your requirements and system design are actually implemented. At this stage, the goal is to have no unknowns or guesses.
If enterprise security is an important consideration, you will follow the configuration basics for the type of Extensible Authentication Protocol, RADIUS servers and timers, and encryption used. If you are configuring pre-shared key-based security, your configuration steps should include strong pre-share values and encryption types appropriate for the client devices used. On a guest network, there may be no real security. Again, the requirements determine these parameters.
Also, at this point you will need to tackle the crucial radio-specific parameters like power and channel. While this territory is best left to trained professionals, there are still some wireless network setup basics you should keep in mind.
- Never use channel widths greater than 20 MHz in 2.4 GHz.
- Stick with channels 1, 6, and 11 in 2.4 GHz and make sure you understand the importance of minimal interference between channels in both bands.
- In 5 GHz, avoid the temptation to use 80 or 160 GHz channels unless your network is just a single access point with no neighbors within radio range.
- Avoid dynamic frequency selection channels in 5 GHz if you don’t understand them.
- In both bands, be aware that high power creates more problems than it solves.
- If you feel lost on the radio side, hire a consultant to save you money in the long run.
- Make sure your switch infrastructure and Power over Ethernet capabilities match the Wi-Fi radio technology being used.
The Wi-Fi network is only part of a network environment. From switch ports to Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server settings to firewall rules, some network configuration basics go far beyond WLAN. The key to successfully completing these configuration steps is to make sure you understand the whole environment. This may require a number of employees working together before it is done.
This is another step that is often overlooked. Procedurally, the verification tests fall between “OK, everything is configured” and “Let’s pass this WLAN to our users”. This is where all the configuration steps for your network are validated.
You will need to thoroughly test signal coverage and density as well as Wi-Fi performance with the same types of devices that will be using the network. Also, test each security type used for all service set credentials before allowing real users to access them. This stage is where issues are resolved before going live.
There is no single set of basic configuration steps for all wireless networks. But, as detailed here, this repeatable process can help you discover the basic network configuration requirements that any Wi-Fi environment needs.
Today’s enterprise WLAN systems have more moving parts, and the basics can be clouded in the fog of functionality. But use the five steps outlined here as a high-level approach, and you’ll get into the basics of network configuration – as they apply to your own situation – much easier.