The Wi-Fi standard IEEE 802.11 celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Yes, Wi-Fi has been around for that long! Hardly a surprise then that in today’s constantly connected world, most people happily take Wi-Fi access for granted. Using online collaboration tools and having virtually unlimited access to Wi-Fi is presupposed in any work environment. But if you recall, even so far as a decade back, only asynchronous tools such as wikis and instant messaging systems were the viable solutions to interface within the enterprise. Now, with increasing bandwidth availability, unified communications include many alternatives such as videoconferencing, application and desktop sharing, IP telephony, and streaming of live videos.
Just like voice and data, video applications are rapidly integrating with business processes. Supporting rich media applications such as video over Wi-Fi lets business enterprises reduce travel costs even as they successfully keep their distributed workforces virtually connected. Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM), previously known as Wireless Multimedia Extensions (WME), is a Wi-Fi Alliance certification that gives priority to voice and video over other forms of traffic on the network. It ensures that applications requiring better performance are placed in queues of higher priority. In addition, Wi-Fi access point vendors have proprietary implementations to differentiate optimization of voice and multimedia traffic over Wi-Fi, and also to ensure seamless mobility from one access point to another.
Deploying WMM enhances the quality of service (QoS) on a network by prioritizing data packets according to four categories. Voice and video packets are given the highest priority over the network, guaranteeing least amount of latency with highest quality streaming. Best effort data packets, or those originating from applications and devices that do not confirm to QoS standards, come next. Back-end processes like file downloads and print jobs get the least priority. This categorization of data packets ensures that video streaming on an enterprise WLAN happens without any interruptions or time lags.
However, video is a very demanding application, requiring extremely low latency levels. Otherwise, users contend with disturbing delays in their real-time interactions. For this reason, teleconferencing applications must use a small playback buffer, making them sensitive to both delay and jitter. In an enterprise framework, where multiple audio, video and data streams must be supported simultaneously, weaknesses in the enterprise WLAN get immediately exposed, leading to disruptions and affecting the usefulness of the video application.
Supporting a continuous stream of multimedia applications using Wi-Fi over an enterprise WLAN is much easier to achieve when the client is static. However, when the client is constantly changing location, say when the user is moving in a car or going across floors within a building while accessing rich media applications, then providing seamless connectivity poses unique challenges. In such a scenario, it is imperative that the client device is able to continuously shift its association across multiple access points or APs. Enterprise WLANs consist of large numbers of densely-deployed and coordinated APs used to provide service. The mobile client must be able to recognize these APs, continuously evaluate the best AP to connect to, and perform accurate and speedy handovers when the user moves and a new AP becomes a better choice for connection.
With mobility having picked up as a workplace trend, more employees prefer working out of office and on the go. While trends such as bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and easy availability of guest Wi-Fi have boosted enterprise productivity, the proliferation of devices and networks over which corporate data is accessed and shared has only made security risks more complex. Wireless networks being easier to access than wired ones, enterprises are getting more concerned keeping both corporate and customer data adequately protected. With wireless data packets getting transmitted over a shared medium like air, and the explosion of BYOD culture, it is essential to provide additional security through data encryption, WPA/WPA2 implementation, multiple authentication procedures, and device management policies.
Having enterprise communications run smoothly is therefore especially challenging in today’s business environment. As the types and number of devices within an enterprise grow at an unprecedented pace, enterprise IT systems struggle to provide secure and reliable communications in the mobile space. Enterprises should keep the following considerations in mind during implementation of Wi-Fi over enterprise WLAN:
- Maintaining low latency levels for rich media applications by aiming to achieve the optimum balance of hardware, processing speed, transmission speed, and video quality
- Employing appropriate algorithms targeted to help the enterprise WLAN successfully connect to and perform speedy handovers with multiple APs
- Installing enterprise mobility management products that work using data loss prevention technologies
- Formulating strong employee mobility and corporate security policies
- Conducting security audits of their wireless networks at regular intervals
- Deploying Wi-Fi access points with built-in intrusion detection and prevention solution
Focusing on these factors could go a long way in providing a seamless and error-free experience to the corporate user while helping enterprise IT teams mitigate their security risks.