Once upon a time Wireless LANs (WLANs) were ancillary, used predominantly by visiting employees and guests. Today, nothing could be further from the truth. WLANs are truly mainstream and the primary method of connection to the corporate network in many cases.

With the uptake in usage, organisations need to re-think their WLAN strategies carefully in five key areas to ensure they are fit for purpose now and in the future.

1. Performance

As employees at all levels start to routinely use the WLAN, they expect the same performance as wired networks. In addition, the innovations taking place in voice, video and other collaborative applications mean organisations not only have to plan their WLAN for today, but for tomorrow too.

It’s not just a question of adding more access points. To deliver the performance users expect, organisations will need to take a long hard look at the way the network is constructed and re-build it to deliver the advanced capabilities that are required.

Access points will need to be positioned carefully to maximise bandwidth and the underlying switching network will need to be re-appraised. High performance switches that improve bandwidth and utilisation while reducing network latency will be essential. But even that will not be enough.

As increasingly bandwidth hungry applications like voice and video become commonplace, it will be important to implement Quality of Service (QoS) on top of the basic transport mechanisms. With QoS administrators have the tools they need to support different applications, users and data flows, and guarantee a certain level of performance.

2. Resiliency and availability

As WLANs are increasingly used to access mission-critical networks or applications, they become essential to the operation of the business and loss of service cannot be tolerated. Organisations will therefore need to design their WLANs to be fault tolerant. Loss of an access point, controller or switch should not mean loss of service, neither should an unplanned outage such as a power failure.

At the same time, scheduled downtime will become difficult, so organisations will want to explore solutions that allow them to perform in-service upgrades on a live access network.

3. Scalability

One thing is certain, WLANS are not going to get smaller. As more and more intelligence is built into mobile devices, and more devices are introduced, so the demand for WLAN bandwidth will grow.

Knowing this, smart network designers will look for WLAN solutions that are simple and quick to scale. Features like the ability to add, move and make changes to access points and controllers automatically, without disrupting users will be highly prized. So too, will capabilities like being able to download full configurations from a master controller, automatically set up real-time states and seamlessly load balance access points.

4. Manageability

As WLANs become more extensive and take centre stage, management of them can become highly complex. As a result, organisations will want to look at the management tools that are available to help them.

The best tools allow administrators to manage all aspects of the network from a single console, including spectrum analysis, radio frequency planning, infrastructure, security and service. Being able to remotely plan, configure, monitor, troubleshoot and optimise WLANs from a single point significantly simplifies management and keeps administrators in control of rapidly expanding networks.

5. Security

As employees want and expect to connect to corporate WLANs with both user-owned and company-provided devices, organisations will have to move from a device-oriented to user-focused security approach.

Unified policy management solutions are highly efficient and give organisations the control they need, by allowing them to define access policies centrally and then apply them in context. The beauty of such solutions is that they allow policies to be defined by user, device, application and location, so administrators can specify the resources a network user can access at an extremely granular level.

As innovative new applications and devices are introduced the explosion in WLAN usage will only continue. Shrewd CIOs will want to stay one step ahead of the game by rethinking their WLAN strategies based on the five key areas above. By doing so they will be ready to deliver the services their internal and external customers expect.