Small business wireless network

Wireless network in a small business environment is no longer an option, but a necessity. With smartphones becoming a standard office tool, it is important to provide a good level of wireless signal in your office. With more and more devices going wireless, a small business will need the performance, reliability and security of a corporate network yet at an affordable price. Needless to say there are not many products out there that fit these criteria.

5 points of interest in your small business wireless network

1. Performance

As much as you might want to use your home router to setup an office WiFi, it will simply not be adequate. Lets say for example that you have about 10 people in your office. With ten smartphones, maybe three or four laptops, a tablet, a WiFi printer, a TV set and a security camera that’s about 16 active WiFi clients. With that many clients you can expect peak bandwidth usage over 1 Gbit, so apart from corporate level WiFi equipment you should also look into decent LAN equipment.
Access points with support for simultaneous dual band will give you an advantage here, allowing (newer) laptops to be offloaded onto the 5 GHz band, and freeing up the 2.4 GHz band for other (older) devices.

2. Scalability

Deploying multiple access points needs to be supported, not only so you can get signal coverage in your office, but also in terms of later scalability. As you can see from our example, add just a few employees and you can expect a bigger increase in WiFi requirements due to the fact each employee can add multiple devices to your network.

3. AP placement and signal strength

The best way to understand signal strength is to visualize a straight line from AP to your device. The more barriers exist on this line – walls, cubicles, furniture, etc. the less signal you will get. For this reason you should look into ceiling mountable devices, and look to add devices as soon as you hit two or more walls.

4. Multiple SSIDs and guest control

It is common practice to provide WiFi access to your guests, and for obvious reasons this the biggest security issue in most networks. This is why you should look into APs with support for multiple SSIDs, so you can separate your work and guest environments. Decent guest network controls should also be in place, uncontrolled guest devices can quickly take up bandwidth and cause issues on your WiFi network.

5. Wireless security

Having a single password WiFi like you have at home isn’t good practice for businesses. You’d have to change the password on all the APs, and Wi-Fi devices when an employee leaves or when a device is lost or stolen. Not to mention security issues where an educated user can intercept network traffic of other users, possibly capturing secure information.

This is why you need support for a RADIUS server, and per user authentication for a business WiFi network. Check out our file server article for information on possible RADIUS servers.
Automated firmware and security updates can also be a great plus if your hardware supports it. When its hard for a business to have in house IT experts doing security updates, having automation where possible is a good compromise.

Our recommendations

The UniFi AC Pro model covers pretty much everything mentioned so far, and with a price under 150$ it fits the small business price requirements. Its a maximum-performance dual-channel AP with a Gigabit network connection. Included with is a PoE injector, so you will only need 1 (UTP) cable to your AP. It scales easily, you just add additional APs and “adopt” them in your existing configuration. It supports a wide range of security configurations, guest networks, multiple SSIDs and a wide range of specific WiFi settings.

Without going to much into the hardware debate instead we offer you some advice on how to configure your UniFi network.

1. Managing APs

UniFi device management

UniFi device management

After installing UniFi Controller software, it will automatically detect any UniFi APs on your network, allow you to “adopt” them. Once adopted, you can identify each with the locate function (AP will start blinking until you stop the action). Firmware update is also done within the software, just select the AP you wish to upgrade and wait for it to reboot. We suggest using descriptive AP names, or keeping detailed documentation so you can easily locate a misbehaving AP later on.

2. Creating networks

UniFi wireless networks

UniFi wireless networks

UniFi Controller software is extremely user friendly, creating new WiFi networks is just a few clicks away.
Setting encryption modes, applying guest policies or disabling your WiFi out of work hours can all be configured very quickly. Bare in mind if you plan on using Hotspot mode with a voucher based portal, you will need to set the (guest) network to open security.

3. Configuring networks

UniFi IP settings

UniFi IP settings

Once you create your WiFi networks, you need to define IP ranges for each, enable DHCP server and define a IP range for it or just turn it off and relay the DHCP from your LAN equipment. It is good security practice to use both a separate VLAN and a separate IP range for your guest and corporate networks.

4. Guest network configuration

UniFi guest portal

UniFi guest portal

Guest control is very detailed, and we found the best solution is to use the Hotspot mode, with the UniFi guest portal. The portal can be customized, and it will show up for each new guest WiFi user asking them for a time based voucher. User groups will allow you to define bandwidth limits so you can reserve bandwidth for crucial business processes, or simply set a cap for guest bandwidth.

5. Hotspot manager (voucher creation)

UniFi voucher management

UniFi voucher management

You create guest vouchers in a seperate “Hotspot manager” interface.
Voucher creation process will allow you to define an expiration date/time, bandwidth limits and a download quota so you can really control your guests WiFi access.
The portal has a decent print dialogue for vouchers, so you can cut and hand them out to guests as needed.

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