In addition to performance, hardware, and management, wireless solutions have many other features that contribute to their usability and stability. Though these features are grouped into a rather miscellaneous category, they are each individually important to consider and contribute to the overall user and management experience.
What you will learn:
If schools heavily use Apple devices that need to discover network resources, a Bonjour gateway can be a useful feature. The Bonjour gateway supports Apple's Zero-touch networking by enabling (or blocking) Bonjour discovery across VLANs or networks. Most manufacturers have some level of Bonjour support, but some have added functionality like location-based Bonjour policies to restrict the list of assets you can see or discover based on where you are in the building.
Roaming is a wireless network's ability to allow a client to move from the coverage area of one AP, into the coverage area of another AP, and transfer the association to the new AP without dropping connectivity. Imagine a user on a Skype call on their laptop walking to the other side of the school without dropping the voice call. This is an example of wireless roaming in action.
L2 roaming - A network that supports layer 2 roaming allows a client to roam from one AP to another without losing connectivity, as long as the two APs are on the same layer 2 network.
L3 roaming - Similar to layer 2 roaming, layer 3 roaming allows a client to roam from one AP to another, but L3 roaming allows for the two APs to be on different subnets. A good network design will typically not allow APs in the same physical space (for example the floor of a school) to be on separate subnets so L3 roaming is not usually a high priority feature. However, if your IP design is such that adjacent APs have different subnets, you will want to prioritize this feature. It is important to note that some solutions do not support L3 roaming without a tunnel from the AP to controller. If L3 roaming is important to you, make sure to discuss your roaming requirements with the vendor if you are considering split tunneling.
Proactive Roaming - A common problem in wireless environments with mobile clients is called "sticky clients" or clients who stick to an AP for too long as the client moves away from that AP. Proactive roaming forces a client to search for a more appropriate AP and initiate a roam before the client loses its connectivity entirely.
Controller/management platforms that are backward/forward compatible can manage legacy APs as well as the newest 802.11ac Wave 1 APs. This helps to protect an investment in management hardware/software as new versions of APs are installed. If you are considering Wave 2 APs and have existing hardware-based/local controllers, be sure to check with your vendor to ascertain if there are any compatibility issues with your current system.
Any wireless solution that you install should be able to scale to 1,000 APs. Not all districts need 1,000 APs, but choosing a solution that has the capability to scale to that degree ensures viability of the manufacturer.
The Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz band is especially crowded because of several technologies all using the same frequency. In addition to 802.11 radios, Bluetooth, LTE, and GPS are all fighting for frequency. Some manufacturers offer advanced Rx (receive) filters to filter out non-802.11 signals in an attempt to increase performance. There is little evidence that these filters dramatically increase performance, so be sure to test this feature in your environment if you decide to pay extra for it.
Many wireless solutions have location tracking intelligence that can be used to track devices as they move through a building or campus. Location services are typically most useful for tracking devices rather than people. A possible use for this service is attaching an RFID tag to projectors or other high value pieces of equipment and using the wireless network to track them. Most product line's location services feature is only available with the purchase of an additional appliance, so be aware that this functionality can be expensive.
There are wireless management products that have the ability to "manage" and monitor APs from other manufacturers. If your wireless network contains APs from multiple manufacturers and you are not in the position to move to a homogenous environment, choosing a management platform that can manage multiple product lines can save time and money in deploying and managing the network and give you the ability to avoid being locked into a manufacturer. However, management functionality is greatly reduced when trying to manage APs, so the tradeoff of functionality for reusing some APs from your old network is generally not worth it.
This functionality is very rare, so be careful making this a requirement as it will considerably reduce your options.
There are federal government agencies that require (Federal Information Processing Standard) FIPS compliance. K-12 school districts are not required to comply to FIPS or purchase FIPS compliant products.
Jumbo frames are Ethernet frames that are larger than 1500 byte MTU. Most wireless LANs do not support jumbo frames. While there are some solutions that do support these larger frames, this is typically not necessary in the school environment.
An AP is considered a mesh AP if it has the ability to connect to the network via another Access Point, without being physically plugged into the wired network. This feature can be useful to cover very hard to reach places from a wiring perspective, typically outdoors. However, mesh networks take a big performance hit because every piece of data has to be both received and transmitted by the mesh AP, so mesh designs should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Some product lines have the ability to store identifying information and encryption keys in secure storage directly on the AP. This can be useful when provisioning a remote AP and securing credentials if an AP is stolen, but in a typical school environment, this secure local storage is a nice-to-have and not worth spending extra money per AP.
A single channel architecture is a wireless network in which the entire network appears to be a single AP. Each AP on the network broadcasts the same channel, so clients interact with the network on one channel. To increase capacity, channels can be â€œlayeredâ€ to service multiple clients per layer. While this architecture boasts improved performance, most studies show that the opposite is true, and in fact, this design can be quite expensive because it may require additional APs to be deployed. Before purchasing a single channel architecture solution, be sure to run your own performance tests to verify that the network can support your bandwidth needs.
Most wireless products support multicast at some level, however, a typical school environment does not use multicast heavily for data traffic. Network control traffic (for example, multicast NTP) is often sent via multicast, but rarely does this control traffic traverse the Wi-Fi network to which end-user devices are connected. Multicast should be a priority only if the AP will be used as a fixed wireless bridge, which is connecting two buildings together. In this case, network control traffic may need to traverse the wireless link to the remote building since there is likely additional networking equipment installed there.
Many manufacturers have an AP or wireless router in their product line which allows for remote teleworker connectivity. APs can be taken home by employees, installed in a home network, and the AP will tunnel back to the controller to provide VPN-like connectivity.