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Wi-Fi accessibility still king of the mobile castle

Mobile devices, wearables and IoT devices introduce new challenges for IT admins, but when it comes to managing the Wi-Fi network not a whole lot changes.

At first glance, it might seem like the proliferation of mobile devices, wearables and Internet of Things devices would have a profound effect on Wi-Fi accessibility.

The reality is, this influx doesn't change things all that much, according to wireless technology analyst Craig Mathias. The name of the game has been and will always be Wi-Fi accessibility. IT administrators must ensure they can deliver the performance users need where users need it. And that comes down to managing the network, not the devices themselves.

Find out what Mathias, principal with Farpoint Group, has to say about mobility and Wi-Fi accessibility, including how to ensure coverage and capacity are up to snuff, what it all means for security and more.

Q: How should IT prepare for all these new devices?

Mathias: If you are operating a Wi-Fi network, the most important elements are coverage -- where you want people to be able to be in order to access the network -- and capacity. Do you have enough available capacity in the network so that users aren't going to be frustrated?

Examine the utilization of the network and make sure you've got the coverage and capacity you're looking for. It's about managing the network as a whole, rather than worrying about the individual kinds of devices. You certainly want to make sure you're not letting unauthorized devices on the network, and that's a function of local policies and whatever security measures you put in place.

Q: What should IT pros focus on to make sure they can deliver the Wi-Fi accessibility mobile users need?

Mathias: You should be able to use the management console to examine how much capacity you are using in the network, even down to the level of an individual access point. You may want to apply some analytics techniques to see how much an individual application is actually consuming. If you've got a whole lot of Facebook activity and you're not the kind of shop that would be using Facebook for research, it probably means people are doing a whole lot of things they shouldn't be doing during work hours.

Examine the utilization of the network and make sure you've got the coverage and capacity you're looking for.

We are starting to see a number of analytics tools become available that will enable network managers to very quickly and often proactively resolve and discover problems before they become something that affects the quality of experience for users. Analytics is a major direction forward.

Networks today are so big and so complex that it's impossible for a human operator to do very much with them anymore in terms of fine tuning. You can't expect a human operator sitting in front of a big board to be able to spot patterns. As your network grows, a lot of your problems will be handled automatically. That doesn't mean as a network manager you can take your eye off the ball. It just means you don't have to hire as many people to do the work.

Q: Does mobility have any effect on security precautions?

Mathias: Security will always be the most complex problem we have to face, because unlike any other element of networking, when it comes to security you're never done. There are new traps and challenges all the time. It seems like the whole concept of two-factor authentication is just lost on people. Yes, it's more of a hassle to use, but it doesn't need to be. We've got good encryption; if we didn't, the FBI wouldn't be after Apple right now. We don't have good authentication. That is probably going to be the most important element going forward. When we start to add Internet of Things devices to the network, that doesn't mean you just bring them in, turn them on and have them work. They must be subject to the security policy as well.

Q: How can we make progress?

Mathias: You have to make sure these devices are secured against tampering, and that's not the easiest thing in the world to do, because some of these sensors just weren't designed with security in mind. Before they go on your network you need to make sure they meet your security policy. The biggest thing at the moment is to raise the consciousness of network operators to realize that just because you're adding a relatively stupid device to your network, it does not mean you aren't creating a network security hole.

Next Steps

The appeal of cloud-managed wireless networks

How to manage guest wireless networks

Make security a Wi-Fi priority

This was last published in March 2016

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