A letter to my potential wireless friend

Dear Potential Friend,

I really want to be your friend. In fact, I want to be the kind of friend you can count on to tell you the truth no matter what the consequences. It’s with this thought in mind that I am forced to tell you that, and this may sting a little, you have completely lost your mind by deciding to deploy fifty home wireless routers in an attempt to become a wireless enterprise. There, I said it. For a few moments I thought about allowing you to experience this life lesson for yourself, but then I remembered what my grampa always used to say: “There’s two things friends should never do. First, friends don’t let friends use home wireless gear to perform enterprise deployments. The other thing friends never do is talk while I’m trying to watch TV. Won’t you be my friend?”.

It’s the first thing that grampa mentioned that forced me to write you this letter. I couldn’t, in good conscience, let you go through with this terrible mistake. Here’s why (I’ve enclosed a picture of grampa. If it helps soften the blow you can pretend he’s the one talking):

  1. Hardware Quality – Home wireless routers are made to be affordable for personal use under average personal circumstances. The hardware used is not as well tested as enterprise gear, is generally not as sensitive, and is not as rugged. Also, home gear is usually designed to sit on a desk and not to be mounted on walls or ceilings. As such, home gear is probably not plenum rated like a lot of enterprise gear.
  2. Management Interface – Home gear usually has a nice web interface you can use to configure your network. This works great for a single access point, but you are going to waste an entire day logging in to all fifty access points just to make a single configuration change. Enterprise gear is designed to allow easy configuration from a single console for all access points. Log in once, make the change once, and log out. Simple.
  3. Channel and Power Management – Wireless networks operate over a shared-medium. Your access point’s signal is transmitting through the same physical space as your neighbours signal. This means there is bound to be some signal interference. Home routers have very poor capabilities for handling interference. Usually the only control you have is channel selection and maybe, if you’re lucky, transmit power. Do you really want to log in to every access point and manually adjust these settings on an hourly basis as your environment experiences different levels of interference? Enterprise wireless gear does this stuff for you. It’s designed to tune itself so that you only need to get involved in the really tricky situations.
  4. Power – Enterprise access points can be powered via the ethernet cable (PoE). You can do this by using PoE-capable switches or mid-span PoE injectors. Either way, you don’t need to worry about how you’re going to run an extension cable from the access point’s location in the middle of the ceiling to the wall outlet behind a desk.
  5. Features – Home access points are great for getting home users on the Internet because home users usually have very basic requirements: get me on the Internet, and keep me on the Internet. My friend (can I call you that yet?), I could tell you wonderous stories of the features I have seen on enterprise-grade solutions. These solutions can give you different levels of access based on who you are, where you are, which device you are using, and what time it is. These solutions can drop your traffic directly onto the local network or even send it through an encrypted tunnel to a completely different location without you even noticing. Deploying a wireless network in an enterprise is not the same as deploying one for your home. Considerations must be made for each different user, device, and circumstance and I just don’t think you’ll be able to keep up with your home access points. There are so many more feature I could write about but I think you get the point.
  6. Security – How long does it take you to change the WPA2 pre-shared key (PSK) on your home access point? Now take that time and multiply it by the number of access points you have. That is the level of pain you are going to experience each time a contractor, guest, or employee leaves your company. Not to mention routine PSK changes as a matter of policy. (If you’re doing the math, that’s a lot of passphrase changes). So, you can either hire a co-op student to constantly change the PSK and notify every employee, or you can use an enterprise-grade solution that allows you to do away with pre-shared keys. That’s right, imagine having users connect to the network using the same usernames and passwords they use to log into their computers. Imagine being able to provision individual logon credentials for guests, contractors, and employees who bring in personal devices and want to get online. Again, I don’t think you’ll be able to keep up with those home access points.

I know home wireless gear is the ‘right price’. I get it, but good wireless networks are not commodity items that can just be picked up off the shelf and plugged in. Every wireless network is different and you are going to need to invest in a proper solution that meets and adapts to your specific needs. Sure you can save a few upfront dollars by sourcing home access points, but I think you’ll find the additional cost, in dollars and time, of tearing down that deployment because it doesn’t work and is too hard to manage, is not going to make you too happy. My potential friend, I urge you to heed my advice by not trying to design by dollars. Leave home (commodity) gear in the home and use the enterpise gear for your business.

Yours Truly,

 

Dan C. (My friends call me @SimplyWifi)

P.S. If, after reading this letter you feel that we can still be friends, I’d love to hear back from you. Please send me a letter, or leave a note in the comments section below with any thoughts or questions. Also, please subscribe / follow us and share this with others so you can save them from making the same terrible mistake. 

 

 

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