Wireless LAN best practices

Aberdeen Group survey of wireless LAN deployments outlines best practices

A new Aberdeen Group survey of enterprise wireless LAN deployments shows that successful ones use a set of practices that can dramatically boost flexibility and collaboration.

A study of corporate wireless LAN deployments reveals that the most successful ones are based on a set of practices that can dramatically improve employee flexibility and collaboration.

The survey compares practices and results of companies represented by 315 IT respondents. Best-in-class companies reported consistently higher results in performance measures compared with “industry average” companies and “laggards” in the study, by Aberdeen Group.

The results detailed in “Measuring the Real Value of Wireless LAN Deployments,” released in June, show that the best-in-class companies on average reported:

•  A 27% increase in “flexibility of the workforce” (the ability to move anywhere in a building or campus and still access corporate data), which these companies attributed to the WLAN. This was 50% higher than all other respondents, Aberdeen says.

•  A 26% increase in “collaboration of the workforce” (being able to work together anywhere, anytime) due to the wireless network, over two times as high as the industry average.

•  A 29% increase in the “quality of meetings,” again attributable to having wireless access for laptops and other collaboration technologies. This is nearly three times the increase reported by the other respondents, according to Aberdeen.

The middle group of industry average companies and the bottom 30% of respondents (the “laggards) also reported increases in all three categories, because of their WLAN deployments. But these increases were all less, sometimes far less, than the top 20% of the respondents.

The top performers all were far more likely (67%) to have and enforce policies for centralized WLAN management, twice as likely to assign trained IT professionals to specifically manage the wireless network, and 25% more likely to allow guest WLAN access for customers and business partners, according to Philippe Winthrop, Aberdeen’s director of research for wireless and mobility, and the report’s author.

WLAN details pay off

In general, the best-in-class deployments reflected thoroughness in following through on network details, an approach dictated by a firm commitment to make employees more productive in a highly competitive business environment.

For example, 88% of best-in-class companies had policies for centralized WLAN management, compared to 58% of the average companies and 52% of the laggards. Having IT staff that know WLAN technology was the practice of 53% of the top scorers, but just 30% of the average scorers, and only 17% of the low scorers. Nearly all of the best-in-class performers had manual procedures in place for RF site surveys, compared with 65% of middle scorers and 58% of low scorers.

In addition, 44% of the top performers monitor the overall wireless network at least monthly, compared with 33% of the average performers and 25% of the lowest performers.

This attention to detail had some startling results, according to Winthrop.

“One thing that really shocked me was the average cost of $93 to add a person to their wireless net by the best-in-class organizations, and that is less than one-quarter of the cost of adding someone to a wired Ethernet,” he says. It is also less than half the cost of wireless adds compared to the rest of the companies in the study.

A related statistic is that best-in-class organizations say it takes them 11% less time adding a person to their wireless network compared with their wired LAN, and reported 60% fewer WLAN-related help desk calls per user per month, compared with all other organizations in the study.

Upfront planning, communicating is key

Winthrop says one other critical factor seems to be the inclusion of line of business managers and staff in the planning process with the IT and network professionals. “You can create the greatest thing [in WLANs] since the toaster oven, but if no one needs it or wants it, what’s the point?” Winthrop says. “The best implementations can be spearheaded by the IT department, but they absolutely include feedback from the lines of business [staff].”

The best implementations seem more able, and willing, to leverage their WLAN investments. Fifty-five percent are using or testing VoIP on their WLAN, compared with 32% of the middle scorers and 25% of low scorers. Thirty-five percent of the top tier are using or testing smartphones that have a Wi-Fi adapter, compared with 19% of both the other two groups.

The top companies have a tighter grip on their wireless networks than the lower scoring companies: 33% have adopted a wireless intrusion-prevention system, 46% have centralized WLAN management software, and 83% have policies on WLAN security.

“These organizations are looking for ways to extend the value of their WLANs and thus increasing the flexibility and ultimate productivity of their workforce,” Winthrop writes in the report.

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