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Meeting intelligent connectivity

Meeting intelligent connectivity

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Rapid growth in data use is also placing strain on existing Wi-Fi networks. High-bandwidth applications, such as 4K UHDTV, augmented reality and virtual reality are becoming widely used in education, enterprise and healthcare sector. Industry pundits share insights with Intelligent CIO Africa on why Wi-Fi deployments on the continent are meeting the emerging technologies requirements.

It has taken less than two decades for Wi-Fi to become a ubiquitous aspect of modern enterprise organisations, with customers and employees alike expecting easy access to fast and reliable networks. So, when the Wi-Fi network fails them, not only is this embarrassing for the network provider, but it also leads to lost productivity and sales.

As enterprise organisations accelerate their Digital Transformation initiatives in Africa, the pressure to invest in latest-generation wireless network technology is growing – not only to meet today’s expectations, but to ensure that wireless networks can also flex and evolve to meet emerging requirements.

Ali Benhaddou, Network Solutions Architect, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, said Wi-Fi is no longer a nice-to-have, but a business necessity and expectations of what it can deliver and how easy it should be to use for mobility, are being continuously redefined.

“The deployment complexity comes from the multiple aspects involved in building a reliable Wi-Fi solution. The first challenge is related to addressing the individual needs of the business and implementing a scalable design providing high speed connectivity with optimal radio coverage built on the latest technologies, insuring the right performance and high availability,” he said.

Benhaddou added that with the Internet of Things (IoT) proliferation trend that the market is currently seeing, it has become necessary for the WLAN networks to be ‘IoT ready’ providing mechanisms for the IoTs identification and secure containment on the network.

Wi-Fi standards

As rapid growth in data use and high bandwidth applications are placing strain on existing enterprise networks, it is vital for organisations to deploy Wi-Fi technologies/standards that enhance performance avoid user frustrations.

Benhaddou observed that obviously the 802.11x standard, commonly known as Wi-Fi 6, benefits both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands as it has been developed specifically to solve the main wireless connectivity challenges.

“Wi-Fi 6 is designed for the lower-latency and bandwidth hungry applications, offering network services for real-time audio and video. In addition, it supports user experience in the denser environment thus maintaining network connectivity for the users in highly populated areas and support for the IoT proliferation providing secure and prioritised connectivity for the IoTs,” he said.

Benhaddou said providing an easy, secure and fast Wi-Fi for visitors has clearly a direct impact on the customer satisfaction and the business processes optimisation.

He said in addition to providing connectivity for web browsing and social media access, it also enables holistic digital engagement with customers, specifically for those companies embracing Digital Transformation on the continent.

“Visitors Wi-Fi has become a critical tool for any businesses with sometimes direct impact on their revenues. In the hospitality and healthcare sectors for example, a high-speed wireless Internet access is even a key differentiator,” he said. “Customer data collected while onboarding the guest Wi-Fi and implementing location based services (LBS) on top of the WLAN infrastructure helps in connecting better with visitors, understand their behaviour, enhancing the proposed services and optimising the processes. This data could also be leveraged in marketing campaigns to create new revenue streams.”

CIO Wi-Fi deployment mistakes

Despite Wi-Fi technology being around for a long time, CIOs and IT teams still make mistakes when deploying Wi-Fi in their enterprise environment.

Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky Africa, said one of the biggest mistakes is not changing the default settings and password of any new devices connecting to the network.

“The out-of-the-box admin password, combined with any potential hardware (or software) vulnerabilities, can give malicious users full control over the device. From there, it is then a relatively easy jump to access the network and sensitive data,” he said.

Opil added that as part of the setup, IT teams must be cognisant of disabling things such as remote management and broadcast SSID on the routers or access points. “The former ensures the device is not accessible from a web page while the latter introduces an added security layer that mitigates against the risk of the network being hacked,” he said. “Thanks to the evolution of technology, setting up an office wireless network has become virtually a plug-and-play exercise. IT teams simply need to connect the router or access point to the network and be guaranteed of wireless coverage. Of course, there is great risk in the simplicity of the process as it lulls people into a false sense of security.”

Looking beyond the basics, Opil explained that the built-in security capabilities of routers or access points must be considered.

“Most Wi-Fi devices feature several cybersecurity value-adds. These can include support for port and packet filtering, QoS control options and integrated firewall features. It is up to the technical team to assess the security features of the Wi-Fi devices and select the ones that best integrate into the existing network environment of the organisation,” he said.

Security

Industry pundits say securing Wi-Fi networks cannot be understated and enterprises should ensure comprehensive security for their networks.

In addition to keeping wireless routers and access points secure, Opil believes companies must embrace a holistic approach to the cybersecurity of their IT environments.

“Yes, being sensible about router settings, strong passwords and encryption, and firmware updates will deliver great results in safeguarding the corporate environment. But that alone is not enough. Instead, IT teams need to analyse their firewalls, anti-virus software and other endpoint security solutions to ensure a more integrated way of protecting the corporate environment,” he explained.

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise’s Benhaddou explained that succeeding in deploying a Wi-Fi network on an enterprise environment depends on achieving properly its design, planning and maintenance.

He said common mistakes seen in the field are usually linked to omitting or not adequately conducting the required tasks and activities.

“This can range from bad site surveys or no surveys at all, wrong capacity planning regarding the number of users and the supported types of applications especially for the high-density areas, failing to develop the right security strategy related to implementing the latest standards, access control policies and intrusion prevention,” he noted.

He said choosing the right WLAN solution vendor is also important as the selected solution needs to fit the environment and the industry where it should be deployed.

“Having the right tools to monitor the infrastructure, making sure the system is operating smoothly with the right performance and providing applications analytics, is key to managing an enterprise grade Wi-Fi network. Lacking these tools is also a common mistake which should be avoided.”

According to Benhaddou, Wi-Fi 6 is the official sixth generation of Wi-Fi technology which is based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11ax standard.

“The Wi-Fi Alliance has introduced the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6 certification programme to ensure Wi-Fi 6 devices meet expectations for quality, security and interoperability.

“When a product successfully passes testing, the manufacturer or vendor is granted the right to use the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED logo. Certification means that a product has been tested in numerous configurations with a diverse sampling of other devices to validate interoperability with other Wi-Fi CERTIFIED equipment operating in the same frequency band,” he said.

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