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How can I address the challenges of real-time apps over Wi-Fi?

Users often compete for bandwidth supremacy when running real-time UC apps in a Wi-Fi environment. Networking expert Carrie Higbie explains how to design a network to support needy real-time apps.

Whether you plan to roll out real-time applications for UC over controlled or public Wi-Fi, the challenges with Wi-Fi networks depend on the network's health, design and proper installation. Some of the following challenges can be addressed in an office setting, but some cannot.

To start, Wi-Fi is shared bandwidth, so real-time apps and devices compete for a signal. If someone connects closer to the antennae than you, you can be knocked off the signal.

The problem with many Wi-Fi networks today is they were engineered prior to the influx of new apps and devices and have not been upgraded. This is true for public and controlled or private network environments.

As more Wi-Fi signals bounce around, multipath signaling can become a problem and cause dropped connections. Saturation of access points can be another problem and will cause the same inadvertent drops. Poor antenna placement can cause problems, too, if a person is roaming and needs a handoff from one antenna to the next.

Designing and implementing a Wi-Fi network requires more than just placing circles of coverage on paper and assuming you'll have great coverage in those circles.

The way around these problems related to real-time apps is to ensure the environment is properly designed. The newer 802.11ac radios are definitely the way to go. These are available through all major network vendors like Avaya, Aruba and Cisco. The difference between 802.11ac and 802.11n is in the bandwidth, not the reach, but the difference is significant.

The problem with many Wi-Fi networks today is they were engineered prior to the influx of new apps and devices.

The other benefit is 802.11ac runs in the 5GHz spectrum, which is far less crowded than the 802.11n 2.5GHz spectrum. Most laptops have the 802.11n capability and 802.11ac routers are backward-compatible, so they can communicate.

As newer laptops come out with higher speed adapters, access points won't have to be changed out. Beamforming is also used in 802.11ac, meaning it will adjust signal direction to the locations where the access devices are instead of just throwing a signal out in all directions.

Real-time apps for UC can compensate for poor signals, and they will retransmit, but if the connection is poor, real-time apps aren't usable.

When you're on an open Wi-Fi network, you're at the mercy of the provider. In your own network, however, you can design for the services you want to offer. If your workforce is more "fixed" than transient, you may never experience a problem, provided your own Wi-Fi network is set up correctly.

Do you have a question for Carrie Higbie or any other experts? Ask your enterprise-specific questions today! (All questions are treated anonymously.)

Next Steps

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