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Gigabit Wi-Fi Case Study: Erickson Living upgrades to 802.11ac

Retirement community plans on retiring wired networks in individual residential units

By Julie Sartain, Network World
February 10, 2014 06:09 AM ET
gigabit wifi

Network World - Erickson Living, a company that manages 16 Continuing Care Retirement Communities in nine states, faces a unique challenge when it comes to installing a wireless network – each retirement community has common areas where residents share available bandwidth, but there are also individual residential units where end users have their personal phone and Internet connections.

According to Hans Keller, vice president of IT Operations at Erickson Living, the company has traditionally relied on service providers to directly supply telephone and Internet services to its residents. But those services have not always been at the level that residents demanded.

“As we looked to roll out wireless services throughout the campus to overcome challenges that our residents had with their providers — as well as other difficulties encountered in multi-dwelling units such as co-channel interference — we wanted to ensure that we could provide equal or better service than what our residents were getting via their ‘wired’ connections from their current providers,’’ says Keller.

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He adds, "The 802.11ac provides this capacity and more. While the wireless service we are providing to our residents still relies on a partner to provide the backbone Internet connectivity, this is all managed at a corporate level versus having each of our residents work one to one with suppliers.”

Keller says Erickson has rolled out Cisco-based 802.11ac at its Greenspring location in Springfield Va.  "As far as throughput, we are measuring speeds above 150Mbps on client devices. We have not yet fully performed a test to measure that maximum throughput that can be attained through clients," he adds.

Of course, many residents are still on 802.11n client devices. “In other words,” says Keller, “we allow g, n, and ac because there are still a number of legacy devices that cannot connect to 802.11ac yet. For those devices that can connect, they all utilize 802.11ac.”

No deployment issues—No learning curve

According to Keller, deployment was incredibly easy, although a little more unique and challenging because of the security model Erickson Living was deploying. Keller’s team wanted to make the connection as simple as possible, while also allowing the residents to have their own secure wireless network within the broader network that the facility was providing.

“We have a single broadcast SSID which, behind the scenes, utilized Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE), Active Directory, and a number of other components, which enables each resident to be placed into his/her own VLAN through 802.1X authentication. Instead of configuring access control lists (ACL) to define access policies per resident, we define access policies through Cisco ISE to apply the proper security group tag (SGT) per resident. Once we got this fully tested in our lab, it made the deployment and conversion of our residents a much simpler process,” says Keller.

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