The bring-your-own-device trend is prematurely aging the enterprise wireless LAN, which is not designed today to handle the steady clip of bandwidth-hungry devices.
Going forward, WLAN planning won't be simply about Wi-Fi access point placement, but rather accommodating this influx of new devices. By 2015, 80% of all newly installed wireless networks will be obsolete thanks to improper infrastructure planning, said Tim Zimmerman, research vice president for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.
Enterprise WLAN planning: Quality of performance over quantity of access points
Traditionally, enterprise wireless LANs (WLANs) were designed to accommodate one Wi-Fi device per every three users, but they are now experiencing upwards of three devices per user, said Paul DeBeasi, research vice president for Gartner.
Mobile devices like tablets and smartphones pose different IT challenges than laptops and desktop PCs. Smaller devices with fewer antennas slow down the wireless LAN. Even the fastest mobile devices on the market today -- like the iPad Mini -- runs at a third of the speed of the fastest laptops, said Bruce Miller, vice president of product marketing for Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Xirrus Inc.
More on WLAN planning
Next-generation enterprise WLAN planning
Adding wireless LAN access control to your enterprise
BYOD boosts wireless LAN market
Securing the wireless guest network
"From a performance perspective, an influx of devices that are slower right out of the gate -- like the iPad -- can bring a wireless network to its knees," he said.
Typical wireless design focuses on distributing more access points where greater coverage is needed. While coverage and device onboarding are important in supporting bring your own device (BYOD), addressing density may be more crucial.
"Enterprises shouldn't just throw more access points up in the ceilings of a crowded conference room. Instead, increasing the number of radios inside access points from two to eight or 16 can better accommodate greater device density," Miller said.
Adding multi-stream radios within 802.11n access points, and even 802.11ac in the future, will be important in addressing BYOD performance, said Rohit Mehra, director of enterprise communications infrastructure for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
Supporting BYOD while upholding Wi-Fi performance
Supporting BYOD is crucial, but it shouldn't come at the expense of enterprise wireless LAN quality, Gartner's DeBeasi said. In addition to the enterprise Wi-Fi network for employees and the guest network for Internet access, IT managers should consider building a third network for BYOD.
Isolated, BYOD networks can grant users the same access to printers or servers that employees have from their work computers, while IT doesn't have to encrypt or protect BYOD traffic. "Network administrators can configure each access point to broadcast out three different virtual networks, while giving one network greater performance over another," DeBeasi said.
In the meantime, implementing user and device-based policy can help in managing BYOD and ensuring network performance.
"If [enterprises] can align their network closely to applications being accessed on certain mobile devices, IT can enforce BYOD polices while providing employees with a better user experience," IDC's Mehra said.
"It shouldn't matter if the employee is using an iPad or any other mobile device -- the enterprise should want to provide support to users for [accessing] mission-critical applications," he added.