Joel Crane is an Innovation Specialist and Trainer at MetaGeek. An all-purpose geek who loves to teach, Joel is part of the research and development team at MetaGeek, and also takes care of customer education for all of MetaGeek's products. We recently checked in with him to learn more about best practices for managing a wireless network. Here's what he had to say:

What are the biggest challenges of managing a wireless network today?

Users expect Wi-Fi that "just works" everywhere they go, and they expect to use it for high-bandwidth applications, like streaming video. Wireless engineers and administrators have many unique challenges, such as managing user expectations, considering aesthetics in AP (access point) placement and even locating sources of interference that are bringing the network down.

What are the most common causes of problems within a wireless network?

Interference from neighboring Wi-Fi networks can cause problems on a wireless network, as can interference from non-Wi-Fi devices like "wireless" HDMI cables, cordless phones and security systems. Poor Wi-Fi performance can also be attributed to a poor wireless network design or a network that is being asked to do more than it was originally designed for.

How do these problems most affect a company's ability to operate?

Wireless networks are becoming increasingly mission critical. Workers rely on the wireless network for tracking and updating inventory, staying synchronized with colleagues, accessing information and giving presentations. If the wireless network doesn't perform well or completely fails, even just for a few minutes, it can ruin an employee's ability to be productive.

What are the most effective ways to monitor a wireless network?

Wireless networks can be monitored with a Wi-Fi scanner such as MetaGeek inSSIDer Office (Laptop-based) or NetScout's AirCheck (handheld), and are a great way to locate rogue (unauthorized) access points, or to ensure that neighboring networks haven't changed their configurations in such a way that would cause interference. Spectrum analysis with tools like Chanalyzer + Wi-Spy and SpectrumXT is the best way to identify and track down non-Wi-Fi interference. Many enterprise-grade access point vendors also include excellent tools for performance monitoring.

How is wireless technology evolving? What trends or innovations excite you the most?

While 5 GHz hasn't been commonly included with client devices such as laptops, phones and tablets in the past, it is becoming much more prominent, which allows us to break free of the limitations and congestion of 2.4 GHz. With the availability of 5 GHz, we can now deploy faster, more reliable Wi-Fi networks, even with the rapidly increasing the demand for Wi-Fi.

What should businesses be doing to ensure security of their wireless networks?

While small businesses can get away with using WP2-Personal (in which one passphrase is shared), larger businesses should always use WPA2-Enterprise, in which each user gets a unique username and passphrase. This helps keep passwords from being shared with users outside the company, which keeps the network secure. A WIPS (Wireless Intrusion Prevention System) can also be installed to protect the network from security attacks.

What are some best practices for ongoing network management and maintenance?

Wi-Fi scanners (inSSIDer, AirCheck) can be used to check for rogue access points, monitor neighboring networks and provide regular coverage spot-checks. Spectrum analysis tools (Chanalyzer + Wi-Spy, Spectrum XT) should be used regularly to monitor channel congestion, and watch for sneaky non-Wi-Fi devices that can completely knock out a wireless channel. Regularly checking your controller dashboard for alerts is a good idea as well.

What are your favorite tools for managing a wireless networks?

My wireless tools backpack includes inSSIDer and AirCheck for monitoring neighboring networks and paroling to rogue access points, Chanalyzer + Wi-Spy for discovering and identifying non-Wi-Fi interference, and a packet analysis tool like AirMagnet or Eye P.A. to measure performance on a specific channel. I also love my NetScout's LinkSprinter, because sometimes wireless hiccups can be traced back to ethernet issues.

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