As work migrates away from desks and more devices are added to the burgeoning Internet of Things, WiFi has gone from nice add-on to crucial pillar supporting day to day operations. Wireless connections support nearly everything we do at work, from enabling automation to offering a better customer experience.
The competitive advantage of good WiFi for work is clear. In the world of retail, a free Internet connection is key to sales and customer loyalty: 96 percent of shoppers prefer stores with free WiFi. Shoppers rely on their phones as their own personal shopping assistant, so WiFi is no longer just something to use while idling and waiting for friends to finish shopping.
Factories use wireless devices like sensors and tablets to give workers unprecedented mobility around the warehouse–and to keep factory floors from turning into a snake’s nest of wires. WiFi has also enabled more efficient machines to push into locations that would be impractical–if not impossible–to get a wired connection into, such as isolated oil rigs.
Back in the office, WiFi allows businesses to adapt to a more mobile, flexible way of working. A majority of companies already allow the use of personal devices for work. Use of mobile devices can also boost employee creativity and productivity for businesses.
Losing WiFi while in the midst of business hours can be devastating for businesses. Frustrated customers will leave your store. Payments may not process properly. You’re suddenly locked out of cloud-based apps. Operations can grind to a halt. Files and data can be corrupted. Keeping your WiFi up is crucial–here are some ways you can ensure a steady connection for both your employees and customers.
Put your Router in a Central Location
The strength of your WiFi connection heavily relies on where you’ve placed your routers. Unlike Ethernet connections that deliver relatively constant performance regardless of distance, a WiFi connection gets weaker the farther you are from a router or a repeater. That’s called path loss. Wireless signals are also more fragile–obstructions such as walls or other electronic devices can significantly reduce the strength of a WiFi connection.
Proper placement is crucial to get reliable coverage for the entire floor. Put your router somewhere in the middle of the office or store. Preferably, in an open space–unobstructed WiFi signals have a range of around 450 feet or greater. The construction of your walls also plays a difference. There’s very little signal loss with wood, glass, or drywall, but concrete, brick, or stone walls will be horrible for your connectivity.
Mount your Router and Aim the Antennas
Raising your router can also help boost performance. Signals tend to travel left, right, and downwards, so best avoid placing them on the floor.
The direction the antennas are pointing to also matter. The antennas transmit and receive data. Pointing them in horizontal and vertical orientations helps the machine maximise coverage.
Use a WiFi Booster
Proper placement is only part of the picture. There may still be dead spots on your floor that no amount of antenna-fiddling can cover. That’s especially true if you’re trying to cover large spaces, or an office that doesn’t have an open floor plan.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to push the range of your machines. You can use WiFi extenders to amplify the signal, or set up access nodes in hard-to-reach spots if you only need to expand your WiFi to a specific area in your office or shop.
Secure your Connection
Like any online technology, your WiFi is susceptible to malicious attacks. Criminals savvy enough can hack your connection and essentially be able to see whatever data’s being transmitted. Hackers can also shut off your access without warning.
Encryption is a must for business WiFi. Older hardware may be working on the outdated WEP protocol, which anyone with an Internet connection can break. The standard is WPA2, which most modern machines support.
If you’re a retailer offering in-store WiFi, or want to make it available for office guests, make sure you use a different connection than the one you’re using internally. This keeps your data and systems secure from anything that may be hiding on guest devices.
Mitigate Bandwidth Heavy Tasks
WiFi channels are busy rivers of constantly flowing data. Congestion is a constant risk, especially if you’re at 2.4Ghz, which is a band used by everything from car alarms to baby monitors. Obviously, too many devices on a single connection will throttle speeds. Even a high-speed, wireless broadband plan becomes glacially slow when split between an entire office.
You can limit broadband-heavy tasks such as video conferencing to 5Ghz channels, which are faster, but have shorter range. You can set a cap on the amount of bandwidth certain file types and applications use to avoid overcrowding. If your business is only open a certain number of hours, limit access after that time frame.
Keep your Routers Updated
Firmware and software updates are often overlooked. Only around 14 percent have ever updated the firmware on their WiFi. These patches are vital for optimising performance. Many also include security updates that can bolster your network against malware.
Some modern routers automatically update. You can go into your router’s admin gateway to check the firmware version you’re running. If you do have to update manually, only download files from the manufacturer’s website.
Look into WiFi 6 Routers
With widespread 5G adoption just over the horizon and everything moving onto the cloud, hardware is constantly playing catch-up to a world that’s always online. The hardware of just three to five years ago may not be enough to support the speeds and improvements of today. In just the last decade we’ve seen wireless categorisation grow to accommodate higher throughput and potentially new frequencies.
The newest standard, 802.11ax or WiFi 6, can theoretically reach speeds of up to 9.6Gbps, nearly triple that of its predecessor, 802.11ac. WiFi 6-enabled routers also allow users to better switch between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz channels, further reducing the likelihood of dropped connections.
Speed isn’t WiFi 6’s most promising trait. The new protocol is meant to accommodate the growing number of devices going online. Businesses who process large amounts of data or use multiple broadband heavy equipment may want to look into updating their existing wireless infrastructure to support their needs.
In a hyperconnected, data-driven world, WiFi is as indispensable as electricity. Good security and hardware and software maintenance are integral for ensuring your operations don’t go dark in the middle of business hours.