The launch of the new iPad, and recent news of record sales, will be both welcome and unwelcome to many IT managers. On the one hand, they’ll be excited at the prospect of owning one.

On the other, they’ll be imagining colleagues – maybe their bosses – bringing the new bandwidth intensive consumer devices into work and using the corporate wireless network to watch HD movies or hold video conferences on them…and then complaining about the Wi-Fi when they have connection issues or their apps are slow.

As Tim Zimmerman from Gartner said last year: “Without proper planning, enterprises deploying iPads will need 300% more Wi-Fi.” This article will explain why this is the case, and provide some advice about how to handle not just iPads, but consumer mobile devices in general.

The key thing to remember about iPads and similar devices is that they are consumer devices. They are not built for the enterprise environment. Compare them with laptops, for instance. In order to make the iPad lighter and more energy efficient, the maximum wireless transmission power was decreased to much less than a regular laptop.

Because of the single 1×1 antenna, the data transfer speed of iPads is limited to 65Mbps, compared with laptops with two and three spatial streams allowing rates of 300Mbps and 450Mbps. Tablets, including iPads, tend to hang on to the wireless radio they are connected to, even when there is a stronger radio available. Such ‘sticky roaming’ has a potentially negative impact on performance.

This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used in a work situation. On the contrary, they bring great value to the workplace. It just means that organisations need to design their wireless network with such devices in mind, or risk their inevitable influx creating problems, such as poor network and application performance, and reduced employee productivity.

Most wireless networks were designed as an overlay network to the wired infrastructure and were not designed to support large numbers of users (i.e. high user density). Wi-Fi is a shared medium, so the more devices on the network, the higher performing the network needs to be. Before allowing additional devices onto the wireless, networks need to be upgraded to ensure sufficient bandwidth and network processing power to handle the increase in traffic loads.

Looking at the new iPad specifically, some key considerations must be made to ensure successful operation over the wireless network. The following apply to other tablets, however, and are useful when looking at supporting any consumer mobile device:

Proper signal strength

Since iPads transmit at a lower signal strength than laptops, wireless networks must be designed with stronger signal to ensure they can achieve maximum data rates. In general, any network supporting iPads should support a minimum -65 dBm signal everywhere.

Maximize 5GHz usage

Wi-Fi operates in two frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 5GHz band supports up to eight times as much bandwidth as the 2.4GHz band with typically much less interference from other non-Wi-Fi devices. When designing for iPads, as many Wi-Fi radios as possible should be set to operate on 5GHz to maximize iPad performance.

Sufficient radio bandwidth

Because of lower transmit power and lower data transfer rate, iPads will typically achieve lower data throughput levels than traditional laptops. To achieve good performance, more Wi-Fi radios per iPad – up to 300% more – are necessary in the wireless network design for dense deployments than traditional enterprise laptops since they will be running at lower speeds.

Supporting new iPads and other mobile devices presents a challenge for IT — but also a huge opportunity. Despite some of the challenges with supporting tablets and smartphones, most companies are looking at how to support the growing requests from their end users. Gartner predicts that: “by 2014, 90% of organisations will support corporate applications on personal devices.”

IT teams must be able to support this growing influx of devices or run the risk of alienating employees and stymieing productivity. By following the simple steps outlined above and by utilising the right wireless infrastructure, iPads and similar consumer devices can be easily handled. This allows IT staff to raise employee satisfaction — and ultimately focus on other pressing IT issues.