Wi-Fi is a must-have for today’s small businesses (SMBs). While there’s still plenty to love about Ethernet, an increasing dependence on mobile devices means that the average workplace or storefront can’t stand to go without a solid wireless connection. Practical concerns aside, it’s simply expected from customers, employees, and visitors alike.
However, not just any Wi-Fi connection will do. Both employees and customers demand easy access, lightning speed, and exceptional security. Miss any of these essentials, and you could put your entire brand at risk.
Thankfully, business Wi-Fi is more accessible and easier to set up than you might think. With a little planning and some assistance from an IT service provider, you can harness the power of a business Wi-Fi network to take your company’s wireless operations to the next level.
In this guide, we’re covering the basics of implementing and maintaining a reliable SMB Wi-Fi connection and explaining why a business-oriented approach is so essential for today’s organizations.
Why Is Business-Grade Wi-Fi Necessary?
In the cutthroat world of small business, entrepreneurs are constantly on the hunt for ways to keep costs to a minimum. For many, this hunt extends to IT solutions – often to the detriment of employees, customers, and ultimately, the entire brand.
A chief example of the long-term cost of skimping on business IT is the havoc wrought by individual-oriented access points meant primarily for in-home use. While such connections are perfectly sufficient for the average individual browsing the internet at home, they aren’t fast or secure enough for today’s small businesses. This is true even when seemingly reliable connections possess the exact same specs as their business-oriented counterparts.
Beyond sheer reliability, access points designed specifically for business IT are valued for their flexibility. Boasting a variety of beneficial capabilities, they can easily be deployed as needed. Such versatility cannot be accomplished with Wi-Fi setups meant for at-home users.
Essential Steps for Implementing a Small Business Wi-Fi Network
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and move forward with business-oriented Wi-Fi. How you proceed with the next phase of this effort will determine whether you achieve a desirable return on investment. Keep the following essentials in mind as you leverage small business IT solutions for your wireless network:
Determine Where to Place Access Points
Most companies require a myriad of access points – not just any setup will do. Unless you intend to maintain only two access points or fewer in a space occupying under 1,000 square feet, you’ll want to conduct a thorough wireless site survey. This will help you determine how many access points are required. You’ll also come away with a better understanding of where and how these access points can best be configured.
Ideally, your site survey will occur in a real-time environment, as this provides a better overview of how the current network functions and where additional access points might be required. In general, access points should not be placed in locations with multiple obstructions. Ceiling and wall-mounted access points may prove most effective in crowded business environments.
Opt for the Most Reliable Access Point Hardware Available
Access point location is critical, of course, but hardware can also influence the strength and reliability of various business connections. Currently, 802.11ac access points are standard practice for small businesses. However, numerous distinctions exist within today’s product lineups. For example, modern access points could feature different types of radio/antenna chains, which may support one or more transmit and receive streams.
The number of devices depends on whether single-user multiple-input and multiple-output (SU-MIMO) or multi-user multiple-input and multiple-output (MU-MIMO) approaches are utilized. While budgetary limitations should be considered, mid-size or large offices nearly always require MU-MIMO access points.
Consider Service Set Identifiers
Essentially a technical term for a business network’s name, the service set identifier (SSID) distinguishes multiple Wi-Fi networks in a single area to ensure that users connect properly. Identifiers are typically broadcast by wireless routers, which allow any devices situated nearby to generate lists of available networks. Typically, devices that have already connected to a specific SSID will continue to access the same network in the future.
Haphazard SSID selection is inadvisable for small businesses, several of which maintain numerous networks within a single physical location. Ideally, users will immediately understand which networks they are supposed to access. Customers and other temporary guests should be granted basic internet access without receiving entry to corporate networks. Additionally, separate SSIDs can be used for specific departments or various types of devices, such as sensors for Internet of Things (IoT) equipment.
Take Advantage of Power over Ethernet
Even small businesses with few access points or limited electrical infrastructure can benefit from Power over Ethernet (PoE), which allows standard network cables to carry electrical power as needed. With PoE, a single cable can accomplish multiple tasks. For example, an office-based digital security camera may require one connection for communicating with display equipment and another for delivering electricity. With a reliable PoE setup, both essential functions can be combined to improve network efficiency.
Make the Most of Network Attached Storage
Network Attached Storage (NAS) connects to your network to provide easy data storage and retrieval from a centralized location. Essentially, NAS serves as a private cloud within your business premises. It’s simple to operate and grants exceptional control while harnessing the many benefits associated with the public cloud.
Maintain an Underlying Wired Network
Your business premises do not necessarily need to go entirely wireless. In fact, by maintaining a wired network, you can ensure that wireless systems work more effectively. Printers and network storage devices, for example, can be linked to wired networks to free up space for mobile phones and other devices that absolutely require wireless access. Keep in mind that all local area network (LAN) wiring should abide by the most recently released standards.
Use Supplemental Equipment to Ensure Network Integrity
Once you’ve secured reliable access for different types of wireless users, you’ll want to take a close look at the security of key access points. Even if equipped with quality hardware, the access points themselves may not provide sufficient protection to combat today’s digital threats.
At a minimum, each network must possess a separate password, which should only be made available to approved users. Additionally, firewalls should be installed to provide another essential layer of business cybersecurity. Consider implementing next-generation firewalls (NGFWs), which go beyond the packet filtering and stateful inspection associated with standard firewalls to include intrusion prevention and deep-packet inspection.
Wireless protected access (WPA) is also essential (although WPA2 is better), as it uses stronger wireless encryption. Finally, firmware should be updated regularly to limit the ability of hackers to access your business network.
Educate Employees on Secure Wi-Fi Access
Employees can stand at the forefront of keeping your company’s network secure – or they can represent a major source of vulnerability. Ideally, all employees will be thoroughly familiar with the array of risks that could strike your business Wi-Fi network. They should also understand the part they can play in keeping your network secure. Don’t assume they already grasp these concepts – security training should be mandatory for all employees, regardless of their technological prowess.
Enhance Your Company with Top IT Services for Small Businesses
Building and maintaining a secure business Wi-Fi network may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With NerdsToGo in your corner, you can feel confident knowing that your network can be designed according to your organization’s unique needs. Our technicians will ensure that your business network is exactly as speedy and secure as you desire.
Contact us today to learn more about our small business IT services – and to discover how we can help you design a custom business network.