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The Secret to Good Wireless

Dave Hodgdon and Steve Ripper from PCG IT, a managed IT services provider with offices in Portsmouth, Dover, Manchester, and Portland, discuss the secret to good wireless.

Portsmouth Computer Group · The Secret to Good Wireless

Mike: It’s Tech Tuesday, which means the Morning Information Center is powered today by PCG, Portsmouth Computer Group. PCG IT with world class IT service and customer support, go to pcgit.com, and they’ve got convenient locations in Portsmouth and Dover and now in Manchester, Portland, Maine.

Joining me is Dave Hodgson and Steve Ripper for Tech Tuesday, everybody.

We’re going to talk about wireless today. The secret to good wireless, Steve, what is it all about?

Choosing Access Points

Steve Ripper: So access points, right? You’ve got to pick your access points. Got to do a little research, right? So we get that call. Dave does a lot of that where, “Hey, what should we do?” And they’ll lay out very simply, “We want to have some wireless in the front foyer when our patients sit there. We want to have it in the back of the warehouse, right? We need coverage.” So we talk about things like how big the Cloud is and how much coverage we can get and what kind of security protocols. So really the access points themselves, like the model. So you got to do your research, you got to ask people who know, who are in the know, and you got to make sure you have enough of them.

Mike: I always wondered about this too, Dave. I’m sitting in my dentist’s office lobby, and there’s wireless, and he has got the password up there and everything else, so you can use your wireless. But I ever wonder does it ever get to a point where there’s too many people on the wireless network?

Problems with Network Saturation

Dave Hodgdon: Absolutely. Great question. All the time.

Mike: Really seriously?

Steve: You can saturate it.

Mike: You can saturate? So what would happen when you get on?

Dave: Think when you’re driving down the highway, busy Friday, Saturday, coming down 95, and the traffic just stops. There’s only so many people that can get through the toll booth at a time. So think of that as a density issue. In the wireless, you can have on average probably 20 to 30 people can get an access point. So say if you have an event, you’re in a golf course, and you have a wedding event. Now there’s 200 people there. That’s way too many people to get into an access point. So the key to a successful wireless installation is understanding what the client wants to do-

Steve: And what’s your peaks and valleys are.

Dave: Peaks and valleys are.

Mike: So if you were trying to get in on that party at the golf course, and there were 200 people all logged in, and you tried to get in as 201 was saturated, you just wouldn’t be able to get in?

Steve: So you’d still connect, all right, because wireless is made up of two parts. There’s the radio part where your device connects to the device, right? So it’s radio waves. And then there’s the actual bandwidth that it transmits over the radio wave. So you’ll still connect, Mike, because it’s a radio, right? So you’re going to connect. What you’ll notice is reduced performance, right? It’ll be much slower, right? It’ll lag, okay? People will say, “I can’t get to my Facebook, I can’t do my files,” and you get frustrated, but that’s what happens.

Wireless and Wiring

Mike: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you’ve said also that your wireless is only as good as your wiring. What does that mean?

Steve: Yes. So what you’re trying to do is you have to build an infrastructure behind the wireless, right? So you’ll see people will try to just do one wireless access point connected to another wireless access point, and it never works very well at all. Right? So what you want to do is, this goes back to what I was just saying a little while ago, you got to, you got to plan out your deployment, right? You need to know how many access points you’re going to have, where are they going to go so that they have good coverage, and then you want to run wires from your networking part of it to where those are going to go, and have good wiring, and then plug your wireless access points in.

Dave: Mike, that comes back to what’s known as the wireless assessment is understanding the building-

Mike: And you guys do that for clients?

Steve: Oh, yeah.

Dave: Absolutely. Yesterday, one of our great clients, Seacoast Science Center, good sized building.

Mike: Love that place, love that place.

Dave: It’s an old school, the building, the old brick building, the stone building. There’s outside venues there. They’re remodeling everything. And in order, there’s a lot of people that come through there during the course of the day.

Mike: So lots of peaks and valleys.

Dave: Lots of peaks and valleys, and they’re actually getting some really new cool equipment. They’re pushing video through Apple TVs. They’ve got the tanks, so there’s more and more wireless. So there came a point the wireless was good but now they’re adding more, so they’ve said, “Hey, it’s slowing down some,” and when you do the visit you can realize where they’re lacking. And now comes, as Steve said earlier, where do they need to go requires some wiring. And the nice thing about wireless, you kind of add as you need it. You don’t have to put it all in at once, but you want to plan out the wiring and get it there, so when it’s time to add the access point, you can.

Wireless Equipment and Vendors

Mike: So do companies, I mean especially the bigger companies, do they have a variety of access points?

Steve: Well, they’ll have-

Mike: Or just one access point for wireless?

Steve: No, no. You’ll tend to pick a vendor, right? So you’ll pick a method of doing it, whether it’s Ubiquiti, whether it’s Meraki, whether it’s Aruba, SonicWall, Aruba.

Mike: And those are wireless equipment vendors?

Dave: Yes.

Steve: So what we’re talking about is controller based systems, right, so that there’s a device that is controlling the access points, and what that does for you is that if you just put three access points up that you just go to at best buy and you buy them, you’re literally, when you’re walking around your room, you have to actually connect your phone or your device or your laptop to each wireless individually, right, so that it knows about all three. A controller based system you don’t do that. You just connect to the one wireless network, and as you move around, the controller knows where everybody’s going, where they’re going, so it manages the handoffs, we call them handoffs. You go from here into the other room, you’re now on that access point.

So to answer your question, Mike, so now companies will go and invest, say, in an Aruba or a Meraki system where they have a controller base, and then they’ll put those access points up in the areas that they need to. And like Dave mentioned, if they need another one that’s easy because they already did the key part of picking the right system and a controller based system and putting it up and getting it wired. So to say, “Hey, we built an addition onto the building, and now we need to put a wireless access point out there,” is easy.

Mike: Yeah.

Dave: Another thing to think about the access points is you might have an area like a room like this. If you had a hundred people in here you would need two, so you really need to think about the area or the density, we keep on calling it, Mike, of what’s going to be there? The key to the wireless though is you really need to understand, when Steve says you’re walking around, if I’m on an application and you’ve got multiple access points, and I walked to the next one, I’m going to drop. You want to stay on the same seam, but you want to stay on the same vendor so it’s seamless. You’re just walking around. It’s all part of your wireless network.

Mike: And when I’ve logged onto certain venues, if I’m in a hotel or a function room when I’m doing some mobile DJ work for weddings, I also notice that there are public and private wireless networks as well. Obviously, I kind of sense the advantage of that because obviously you want to keep some of your important data away from anybody else from hacking into it, correct?

Steve: And you see it a lot in medical offices, Mike, because you know you need to have a private wireless. The lot of the devices that you’re walking around in the patient rooms, you got to have wireless.

Mike: That’s specifically for company stuff.

Steve: That’s correct. And so those wireless devices that, say, a medical office is using needs to connect to the company data that they have, right? But you can’t have the patients coming in and being able to also access those resources. HIPAA gets involved, right? So you have a public wireless that’s giving your customers Internet, right, so that’s a nice value add. Makes them want to come see you, right, but they do not have access to your data. They only have access to the Internet. So that’s a thing that we do in the wireless controllers and in the wireless access points to make sure that there’s public and private. And then Dave’s big tip of the day …

Cell Phones and Private Wireless Networks

Dave: Big tip of the day. Never ever have your cell phone, your cell phone, Mike, that has unknown stuff on it, on the private wireless.

Steve: Yeah.

Dave: Why would that be?

Mike: Well, private means secure.

Steve: Yeah.

Dave: Correct. So think about these phones. If I’m coming on my wireless network, this thing’s infected, I’m going to show on my private network at work, this phone could be a huge vulnerability for your network. So always have … You can allow your phones in the network, but have it always be in the public so you can stream your music, you do your texting, but never ever put your phone on the private wireless.

Steve: Because a lot of Companies will, their employees, they’ll give them a laptop or they’ll give them a desktop that they sit at, but most of your employees are bringing their own phones into the building with them. So you’ve gone through a lot of effort to protect your servers and your network and the PC that you’re giving the employees, but they’re walking through the door with this device you have no control over, right? You’re not controlling their phone. You don’t know where their phone has been. You don’t know what their phone has been doing. They don’t know what their phone has been doing. So you make a company rule public, put it on the public. That way if somebody does bring an infected phone in, they’re not infecting anything else.

Mike: Good point. Good point.

Dave: As Steve mentioned the public, I have a public and a private at my house because my son has lots of kids come by, but I have my private wireless, which is my work, what I do, connect back to work. But when his friends show up with all their phones, I don’t want them near, potentially putting at risk my business, so there’s the public network at the house. So it’s not only just your business, it could be your home as well.

Mike: So there’s no way that your son’s friends can log into the private at all.

Dave: Correct. Yeah. Unless he gave him the password, which I won’t give to him.

Mike: Right.

Steve: Then you can change the password.

Mike: Would you give it to me?

Dave: Yeah.

Mike: Yeah?

Dave: Oh, absolutely.

Mike: Absolutely. Yeah. But on a public wireless system, sometimes there’s passwords, sometimes there are not, correct?

Dave: I generally see that there’s a password the first time you get on them.

Steve: It might be very simple, and they might announce it, like at Starbucks, but generally you don’t do clear text, you don’t do no password. You do some kind, even if it’s a simple one, and most wireless systems, modern wireless systems now, even when you’re on the public, it will do what we call segmentation. It will segment so that when you’re on the wireless, you can’t actually connect to anything that the person in the table next to you, right? So it basically creates lanes for each person, and your lane goes out towards the Internet, and that’s the only place you can go.

Mike: All right.

Antenna Quality and Density

Dave: The other big thing on the wireless, Mike, it’s you got to pick the right, even though Meraki, they’ve got like eight, nine models, you can’t take the low end one and expect them to get a larger group. It’s the quality of the antenna or the density it can handle. So I might put one of those small ones in a smaller room where not as many people in the kitchen …

Mike: Right.

Dave: … but in the areas you need to put the, you can have a mixture of access points, but as long as they’re the same brand, as Steve said, on the controller base, they’re all talking together.

Mike: All right. David, Steve with the secret to good wireless from Portsmouth Computer Group. They can help you out. Check out their website, pcgit.com, with convenient locations in Portsmouth and Dover, and now in Manchester, Portland, Maine. Always good to see you guys.

Steve: Thank you, Mike.

Dave: Always a pleasure. Give us a call-