Getting More Out of Your Network

by [Published on 1 July 2014 / Last Updated on 1 July 2014]

This article looks at other ways you can utilize your wired or wireless network other than traditional browsing and file sharing.

Introduction

As you likely know, there are many uses for a network beyond providing Internet and file-based access to clients. However, you might not be familiar with some of these utilizations and network-based solutions. Thus here I’ll introduce and discuss a couple: VoWLAN, location and sensor services, and HVAC and building automation. Perhaps consider deploying them on the network(s) you manage.

VoWLAN

Although voice over IP (VoIP) is fairly prevalent today, voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) isn’t as much. It’s essentially the same as VoIP: the voice is carried over the network and Internet instead of traditional phone lines. However, VoWLAN connects to the network via Wi-Fi and gives you wireless capability.

Using VoWLAN has various benefits based upon the particular environment and needs of the organization. They can serve as mobile phones and walkie-talkies where there’s poor or no cell signal, or even where there is good coverage in order to reduce wireless carrier charges.

Before implementing Wi-Fi based VoIP phones, however, you should first do some RF site surveying to ensure proper coverage and signal strength. To ensure high-quality voice and to avoid dropped calls you’ll want to ensure your Wi-Fi meets the recommended specs. These requirements typically include a certain signal and SNR level and overlapage of each AP’s coverage throughout the desired coverage area to ensure seamless roaming between APs. Additionally, QoS should be implemented to ensure voice traffic gets priority over other not so sensitive traffic, like casual browsing and file transfers.

You can use free Wi-Fi stumblers for simple general wireless surveying, but consider a professional-grade tool that supports VoWLAN surveying, like AirMagnet Survey.

Location and Sensor Services

Wi-Fi can offer much more than wireless access to the network. It can serve as the backbone for location and sensor services. For instance, you could track and locate assets, rouge clients or APs, and personnel indoors where GPS signals are too weak. Plus it allows you to track Wi-Fi devices without the user even knowing, such as monitoring foot traffic at public venues. Sensors are also available, for instance to monitor temperature or humidity, offering remote monitoring and alerting.

There are many techniques that are used to help determine the location of Wi-Fi devices. These include detecting which AP they’re connected to and triangularization via analysis of the timing of traffic sent/received, signal levels (RSSI), and detecting in which direction signals are received. RF fingering printing is also used, which involves collecting Wi-Fi signal information for calibrating the system and to create a model of the RF environment. Vendors may use a combination of these techniques to help increase location accuracy.

Many of location tracking techniques don’t even require anything to be installed on the client side. However, there are dedicated Wi-Fi tags, in the form of an ID badge or bracelet for instance, that are also sold that offer additional functionality.

Though most of the work of Wi-Fi location systems can be done via a software-based solution on the network side, you may want to perform some Wi-Fi surveying and likely have to make subsequential changes or improvements to the wireless network in order to improve location accuracy. One Wi-Fi surveying tool that supports RTLS surveys is Ekahau Site Survey.

HVAC Management and Automation

There are many building automation solutions out there that utilize networks to help you centrally control and automate lighting, door/gate locks, security cameras, HVAC, and other building components. I won’t get into all of them, but concentrate on one: network-based HVAC management and automation.

The energy management systems (EMS) today offer network-based thermostats that can connect via Ethernet or Wi-Fi and then be centrally managed via the cloud. This central remote monitoring and management can greatly reduce the time and effort spent in regulating the HVAC system and temperatures. They also provide data and stats on the HVAC system you may have never seen before, which can help identify issues with the components faster.

Energy costs can also be reduced since these smart thermostats give you so much more management and scheduling abilities. This is especially true for public venue buildings with zoned HVAC systems. Solutions like InThrMa allow you to push facility schedules to further automate temperature control; you can heat/cool rooms or areas only when they’ll be occupied.

Keep in mind when installing Wi-Fi thermostats, or any non-traditional Wi-Fi device, perform some Wi-Fi surveying to check signal levels at every desired location where the devices will be installed. Though you might think your existing Wi-Fi coverage is enough, there may be some areas where you now need coverage where you didn’t before. Also remember that the antenna technology inside your laptop or new smartphone might show a better signal than what a Wi-Fi thermostat or automation device might show.

Summary

As you’ve discovered here, there are many more ways in which you can utilize your wired or wireless network than traditional browsing and file sharing. VoWLAN gives you mobile Wi-Fi phones, location and sensor solutions allow you to track devices and stats from sensors, and network-based HVAC systems can help save energy costs. But keep in mind with every new network solution you deploy you need to ensure your network can handle it.

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