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Why your Wireless network sucks in your warehouse

WarehouseWirelessSucksThe warehouse and manufacturing industry were among the earliest adopters of untethered network access.  A dozen years ago these bar code data collection systems caught on fast due to their accuracy and productivity benefits.  But something happened between then and now.  Others caught on!

The needs of the wireless connectivity for data collection were not the needs of the office worker.  Where the scanning process involved few transactions taking place over a large area with small data packets, the office workers needed wireless access with large files in small areas (cubicles, conference rooms, auditoriums, etc.).  WiFi networks were deployed throughout the corporate environment; it’s not just the warehouse and manufacturing floors anymore!

Technology surged forward as IT network equipment providers (Cisco, Aruba, Meraki, Ruckus etc) developed and introduced new solutions for the new demands.  Higher data rates (g, n, and ac), increased density of access point placements, and controllers which take the guesswork out of channel assignment and power levels were promoted.  These were needed because applications had changed (streaming HD video, audio, increasingly huge files, VoWLAN were now on the wireless) and IT managers had to plan for three client devices per employee (smart phone, tablet, and laptop).  While these advances have worked well for the office environment they have been far less than perfect for the industrial space.

Changes in the industrial space, for many of our clients, have not varied.  Rugged data collection devices are needed in large areas by relatively few users to do a transaction every few minutes with small data frames.  They still need to roam (often at very fast speeds for forklift operators), but these basic requirements are pretty much the same as they were a decade ago.  If the lift operators and conveyor users had a smart phone, tablet, and laptop connected to the wireless network while picking, supervisors would be a bit unhappy with the lines per hour!

So why do we need an access point every 2,500 square feet, when we needed one every 25,000 square feet a few years ago?  Why do we need a controller to adjust the power continually when we never see massive stock fluctuations (when was the last time your warehouse was emptied out in an hour?).  The fact is we do not, and the standards advised by many engineers outside the industrial environment are ill advised.

The fact is, unless business needs have changed in your industrial space, a high density access point deployment is not appropriate.  Controllers are not necessary to adjust power (but may be a good tool to manage configurations), high density deployments are not needed just to feed data back to the controller, and access points with multiple antennas are wasted (how can you have MIMO when there is only one antenna on the client device?).  Understanding is the key to any accurate solution, so it is important to re-evaluate your needs before plunging into a high density, high bandwidth controller based solution.  Unless, of course, you want the best HD Youtube streaming performance for your teammates (when they are on break, we hope!).

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