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It used to be that enterprises could plan for a one-device-per-user ratio. But with BYOD, each employee uses multiple devices, putting significant strain on traditional wireless network bandwidth infrastructures.
In the bring your own device (BYOD) era, a corporate wireless network that scales to 50 devices is no longer enough, said Rob Shaughnessy, CTO of Circadence, a WAN optimization company based in Boulder, Colo.
“It’s triage. The scaling that we’re seeing is thousands of end points,” Shaughnessy said. “We have a customer in Asia with 500,000 end points. Can you imagine the challenges that presents?”
IT pros run into wireless network bandwidth performance problems in part because a single Wi-Fi connection can really only support 15-20 devices -- any more than that and the connection signal strength begins to deteriorate significantly, said Perry Correll, senior technologist for Xirrus, a Wi-Fi technology company based in California.
“If 30 people are sharing a single [connection] then each device is only getting a 1 Mbps connection, and that is terrible,” Correll said.
Is corporate wireless infrastructure ready for BYOD?
Building a modular corporate wireless network with the ability to add more connections is one of the simplest things enterprises can do to future-proof their networks, he said. Even companies that don’t support a BYOD program today should recognize that tablets and smartphones are already making their way onto the corporate network, and IT has to plan for more devices to come.
In fact, by 2015, 80% of recently-installed corporate wireless networks will become obsolete because of poor infrastructure planning, according to a new study by Gartner, Inc. The same report suggests that as a response to widespread mobile device adoption, enterprises will have to deliver 300% more wireless access points to provide future Internet performance that is similar to the performance in the pre-BYOD era.
Other Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as projectors, scanners and printers could cause similar network problems if businesses don’t plan accordingly.
Increasing wireless network bandwidth for BYOD
Even Emulex, a company that solves networking problems, experienced its own share of wireless network bandwidth issues, forcing the company to prioritize a long overdue Wi-Fi infrastructure update.
The Emulex headquarters consists of three buildings in Costa Mesa, Calif., with a tech-savvy workforce. Employees continually Skype between international corporate locations and use Wi-Fi on their personal devices while walking between buildings on campus. All of that amounts to a lot of bandwidth use.
“BYOD has put a strain on our network,” said David Goff, Emulex’s chief technology officer. “It's requiring us to be more proactive.”
Emulex increased wireless network bandwidth, access points and available coverage. The company also devised a strategy for offering two separate Wi-Fi networks, the corporate wireless network and a guest network.
The guest network is password protected and keeps sensitive corporate data behind the firewall. Mainly for employees’ personal use on their own devices, only users with mobile devices that meet Emulex’s security protocols can access the corporate wireless network with that device.
The company also upgraded its Wi-Fi to the 802.11n wireless LAN standard, laying a stable foundation for the years to come.
Securing corporate wireless networks
IT departments shouldn’t simply throw more bandwidth at their BYOD problems; they also need to consider the network stability and security ramifications of employees’ Wi-Fi use and plan accordingly, said Frank Andrus, CTO of Bradford Networks, a network access control company.
More on BYOD and wireless network bandwidth
Bringing BYOD to your enterprise
Using wireless network bandwidth monitoring to stay within data caps
How to calculate network bandwidth requirements
A guide to Wi-Fi-cellular integration in the enterprise
A mobile device security strategy that puts users first
“Do I really want someone’s iPhone on the network?” he said. “It’s causing capacity problems if it’s on the network. Businesses need to evaluate what devices are really needed to perform the day-to-day functions.”
A good way to do it is with network access controls -- a security method that limits which devices can access the corporate network based on either a business-defined or a role-based policy.
“Ideally what you want is full visibility to what kind of assets have access and what the user has been doing,” said Rainier Enders, CTO of NCP Engineering, Inc., a VPN solutions provider based in Mountain View, Calif.