If your business is like many that have embraced wireless technology, cloud computing and the Internet of Things, your priority will be to ensure an uninterrupted service. Businesses that are heavily reliant on their Wi-Fi networks understand only too well the cost of downtime to business productivity and profitability, as well as reputation. Therefore, reports that new cellular tech could disrupt your Wi-Fi networks, may be causing you a few sleepless nights.

The Wireless Spectrum

Wireless communications signals travel over the air via radio frequency, know as the spectrum. Just as with radio stations, operators can only transmit data over certain frequencies of the spectrum, which are licensed in the UK by Ofcom. There are slivers of the spectrum that are unlicensed, and many mobile operators would like to use these to enable their users to get better connections. For example, mobile users in busy areas such as at a sports event may struggle to get a connection using the channels available to mobile telecoms operators. If they could use unlicensed LTE these would increase connectivity without the user having to change networks.

The issue is that some Wi-Fi companies believe that this will slow down wireless LANs, making it harder for Wi-Fi users to get connected and damaging Wi-Fi performance. In the US Google, Microsoft, and Comcast, amongst others, have all been lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (the US equivalent of Ofcom) to delay LTE-U’s adoption pending further tests. It has been agreed to develop a standard common test plan so that unlicensed LTE products can be tested and their impact assessed. This is likely to start in February 2016.

Ensuring An Uninterrupted Service

Threats to Wi-Fi service such as the one posed by unlicensed LTE are a major consideration for our clients. As we provide Wi-Fi services to many organisations in the hotel and events sector, connectivity is high on their list of priorities. Not only do these companies need Wi-Fi for business-critical use, but also they need to provide public access Wi-Fi for their guests and other users. Demand for these services can fluctuate and at times be very high, for example during an event, and therefore it is essential that a robust and flexible Wi-Fi service be in place.

Businesses need to be aware of likely sources of disruption or interference, as this can create security vulnerabilities and wireless network instability. Sources include: Devices emitting in the unlicensed band: microwave ovens, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, wireless video cameras, outdoor microwave links, wireless game controllers, ZigBee devices, fluorescent lights, WiMAX, motion detectors for lighting, etc. can all impact on your Wi-Fi network resulting in loss of throughput.

Co-channel and adjacent channel interference: generally wireless LAN networks work co-operatively with each other, sharing the channel capacity. However, having ruled out other sources of interference this should be explored. Detecting the source of interference can be difficult as an employee bringing a new device into work might be responsible without knowing it, and generally that device only causes interference when it is being used. For example, an employee using a cordless headset might only use it for certain phone calls and therefore interference is caused at sporadic times of the day.

What’s the solution? Well there are plenty of tools available to scan for wireless networks in range, and devices that are utilising the spectrum. However, you will need to operate these for an extended period as one sweep might not reveal all sources of interference – that cordless headset might not be in use at the time. You might also implement a wireless policy in your business so that employees do not bring devices into work. However, this will need enforcement and if your business, as in the case of our hospitality clients, revolves around providing services for the public – this won’t be feasible.

This is where partnering with a managed service provider has key advantages, giving them the responsibility to ensure an uninterrupted service, and benefiting from their experience adapting technologies to minimise interference and disruption.