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Build Agility through Wireless Networks Designed Right

Thu, 10/15/2009 - 9:33am

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Designing a wireless data network without fully accounting for the mix of applications, the types of client devices and number of users risks reduced performance.
By Dr. Roger Skidmore, Motorola

Build Agility through Wireless Networks Designed Right
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Figure 1. Campus shot using Google.
There has never been a more exciting time to be in wireless networking. New technologies such as IEEE 802.11n, WiMAX and LTE are beginning to establish themselves in the broadband marketplace just as applications such as video and VoIP are moving to the forefront of consumer interest. The need to be able to adapt your communications infrastructure quickly and efficiently has never been stronger, and wireless has never looked so attractive.

Less than a decade ago, wireless data communications was viewed by many as little more than an extension to an existing wired network. When wireless was introduced into a data communication network, it was generally used only for non-critical applications and to provide a degree of mobility. Just as cellular revolutionized voice communication, wireless LAN (WLAN) gradually won acceptance in data networking. Today, more companies are looking to wireless networks to be their primary data network, if not fully replacing the wired network altogether.

As wireless infrastructure has become more secure and reliable, and new, higher throughput broadband technologies have emerged, the concept of being all-wireless, all the time is now a reality. CIOs and IT managers are no longer facing a real choice between the security and reliability of a wired network and the mobility a wireless infrastructure offers. Whether in enterprise, retail, healthcare, education, or public safety, the flexibility and agility that wireless data communication brings to the table is the clear winner.

Are Wireless Data Networks Up to the Challenges?
Build Agility through Wireless Networks Designed Right
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Figure 2. Mesh Planner.
The question now is how do I guarantee my wireless data network is up to the challenge? Can I simply replace my existing wireless network equipment with the newer, higher data rate technologies, or should I fully re-design my entire network? The prevalence of applications such as voice-over-IP (VoIP), video surveillance, video sharing, secure data transactions, and demanding data applications is driving an expectation that such services will be readily available on the wireless data network.

Certainly, the new capabilities of technologies like 802.11n make it possible to design a wireless network able to support these demanding applications. However, there is more to building a wireless network than picking convenient mounting locations and powering on a few access points. While the higher data rates and greater security offered by the latest networking equipment make it possible to construct a robust wireless network, the wide range of applications and services that may eventually be introduced on this network requires a more structured approach. Designing a wireless data network without fully accounting for the mix of applications, the types of client devices and number of users risks reduced performance.

Any wireless data network intended to operate as a substantial part of an overall communication network deserves a proper design. The design should account for all required applications, client devices and numbers of users, as well as the details of actual area to have service. It is nearly impossible for any sizable wireless data network to go from concept to deployment without some thought given to design. Given the sophistication of the latest wireless technologies and the complexities of balancing all of these variables, any organization serious about leveraging a wireless data network needs to ensure that design is thorough and complete.
Advanced Network Design Tool
Build Agility through Wireless Networks Designed Right
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Figure 3. Motorola’s LANPlanner was the first network design software to provide accurate simulation of 802.11n performance.
To meet this need, a good advanced network design tool should tackle the complexity of design while simplifying the process, whether it focuses on indoor and campus WLAN design or on larger-scale outdoor network design. Design tools should consider not only the process of wireless network design and deployment, but also reflect an understanding of emerging wireless data technologies and their application.

The tools themselves are software applications that combine basic knowledge of the wireless service area along with any information available regarding the types of applications and users expected on the network. They empower data network architects to visualize and easily understand what the wireless network will be able to do, and to more effectively analyze the tradeoffs between cost and performance. Indoor WLAN and outdoor wireless broadband planners convert what can be a technically challenging problem into an easy to follow workflow that can assess a wide range of possible network architectures and allow for more informed decision-making on the part of CIOs and IT managers.

Any wireless network design will leverage maps of the area to be serviced, whether those maps are detailed CAD building blueprints or rough scanned images of the building or campus layouts. An advanced WLAN planner allows network architects to interactively model the building or campus using whatever information is at hand. The resulting model of service area can be overlaid with expected user levels, desired application types, and any existing wireless networking equipment. If required, a full site-survey can be performed using planning tools that offer built-in measurement software to capture existing coverage and interference information.

The network architects can place and simulate a wide range of different types of wireless equipment and technologies, or the planning tool can recommend equipment placements based on the given network goals. Accurate performance plots then can readily provide an indication of how well the network design meets the architect’s goals.

Similarly, outdoor wireless broadband planning tools utilize available GIS information about larger outdoor environments, such as aerial photography, terrain elevations, clutter data, and detailed building data to model the desired service area. The workflows in some design tools support the design and modeling of sophisticated multi-tier network architectures, including mesh and point-to-multipoint technologies.

Selected planning tools like the Motorola BroadbandPlanner integrates the acquisition of measurement information through drive or walk testing, and can either visualize network performance natively or export the information to convenient tools such as Google Earth.

The powerful combination of measurement and prediction capabilities can enable network architects to analyze even the most difficult of network designs. Going well beyond simple coverage estimation, some of today’s simulation tools can directly address questions of capacity and throughput. Motorola’s LANPlanner, for example, was the first network design software to provide accurate simulation of 802.11n performance, allowing for detailed assessment of the impact 802.11n will bring whether being introduced into an existing network or deployed in a new facility.
Improved Budgetary Planning
Build Agility through Wireless Networks Designed Right
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Figure 4. Motorola’s RF Management Suite.
Undoubtedly, the wireless data network will need to support a wide range of possible applications both today and tomorrow. Advanced design tools help wireless network architects better understand when and how their network needs to expand, leading to much improved budgetary planning. The placement and configuration of each wireless network element can be planned in advance, with the impact of different placements and configurations accurately represented. Network performance can be visualized under various conditions, including the impact that individual applications may have on the network, and physical network security can also be planned in advance.

A properly designed wireless data network is often also easier and less costly to manage. The process of realizing a wireless data network should flow easily from the design phase through to the management of the network. Having the ability to holistically view the lifecycle of a wireless data network from concept, to design and deployment, to management and security means allowing for critical information to be shared through each stage. For example, the network designs created in the planning tool should pass into the network management application and vice versa. The two applications should share critical network information, making on-going management of the network more efficient and the network itself easier to maintain.
Network Management Tools
Network management tools for indoor WLAN management and outdoor mesh, point-to-multipoint, and point-to-point network management greatly simply the task of maintaining wireless networks, and empower users to be able to detect and deal with network and security issues as quickly as possible. Additionally, a connection and data exchange between managers can allow users to more quickly analyze any network issue.
Conclusion
The best design and management tools should leverage the latest software technology and the ability to both share and graphically visualize information so that they can empower any organization to embrace wireless data networking confidently. Leading WLAN and outdoor wireless broadband design tools enable wireless architects to rapidly and accurately plan wireless networks of nearly any size and purpose. When used independently, they help ensure that a wireless data network is properly architected to deliver on the performance and flexibility that the wireless technology itself is capable of. When combined with their ability to capture critical wireless network information in the design phase and pass that through seamlessly into network management applications, the full power a holistic design-to-management approach is realized. Dr. Roger Skidmore is Systems Architect for Motorola. He can be reached at roger.skidmore@motorola.com.

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