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Wireless network configuration basics: 5 steps to follow

Different wireless networks have different requirements. However, some common principles exist for strategizing your wireless network configuration steps.

Wireless network configuration encompasses several potential variances across environments. Even in a complex single site, the network configuration basics required for a successful implementation can vary from one wireless network to another running on the same hardware as part of the overall wireless LAN environment.

At the same time, some common tasks go into any successful wireless project, including a number of key network configuration steps. Let's take a look at the high-level and granular steps that wireless professionals should take when implementing business-grade Wi-Fi networks.

Gather network requirements

Before you tackle specific network configuration steps, you need to understand the environment's operational requirements.

For example, a big university's wireless environment has multiple sets of requirements for different paradigms. The guest network requires different configuration steps than the general-use secure network. Wireless services enforce the goals and policies, but if you don't nail down those goals and policies, you won't know what network configuration steps you need to follow.

Design and survey

This is one of the most critical steps in the overall process of bringing successful wireless to life. When you need to tackle the actual wireless network configuration basics, a proper design based on surveying will tell you how to approach everything from cable placement to discreet settings in the wireless LAN (WLAN) hardware.

Neglect this step -- or trust it to unqualified staff -- and it can result in costly rework.

Implement WLAN components

Here's where the wireless network configuration steps that were defined by your requirements and system design actually get implemented. At this step, the goal is to have no unknowns or guesswork.

The key to getting these configuration steps right is to make sure you understand the entire environment.

If enterprise security is an important factor, you'll follow the configuration basics for Extensible Authentication Protocol type, RADIUS servers and timers, and encryption in use. If you're setting up pre-shared key-based security, your configuration steps should include robust pre-share values and encryption types suitable for the client devices in use. On a guest network, there may be no real security. Again, requirements drive these settings.

Also, at this stage, you'll need to tackle the crucial radio-specific settings, like power and channel. Although this territory is best left to skilled professionals, you still need to keep some wireless network configuration basics in mind.

  • Never use channel widths beyond 20 MHz in 2.4 GHz.
  • Stick with channels 1, 6 and 11 in 2.4 GHz and make sure you understand the importance of minimal co-channel interference in both bands.
  • In 5 GHz, avoid the temptation to use 80 or 160 GHz channels unless your network amounts to a single access point with no neighbors in radio range.
  • Avoid Dynamic Frequency Selection channels in 5 GHz if you don't understand them.
  • In either band, know that high power creates more problems than it solves.
  • If you feel lost on the radio side, hire a consultant to save you money in the long run.
  • Make sure your switch infrastructure and Power over Ethernet capabilities match the Wi-Fi radio technology in use.
Today's business WLAN systems have more moving parts, and the basics can be obscured in the fog of features.

Integrations

The Wi-Fi network is just one part of a network environment. From switch ports to Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server settings to firewall rules, some network configuration basics range well beyond the WLAN. The key to getting these configuration steps right is to make sure you understand the entire environment. This may require a number of staff working together before it's done.

Verification testing

This is another stage that is often overlooked. Procedurally, verification testing sits between, "OK, it's all configured" and "Let's turn this WLAN over to our users." It's where all your network configuration steps are validated.

You'll need to thoroughly test for signal coverage and density and Wi-Fi performance with the same device types that will use the network. Also, exercise every security type in use for all the service set identifiers before you let real users onto it. This step is where issues are ironed out before you go live.

There is no single set of basic configuration steps for all wireless networks. But, as detailed here, this repeatable process can help you ferret out the required network configuration basics that any Wi-Fi environment needs.

Today's business WLAN systems have more moving parts, and the basics can be obscured in the fog of features. But use the five steps outlined here as your high-level approach and you'll get to the nitty-gritty of network configuration basics -- as they apply to your own situation -- a lot easier.

This was last published in February 2019

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