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4 tips to building a better wireless network

Tom Kaneshige | Sept. 9, 2010
Shoring up his wireless network to ride the mobile device wave, a CIO learns valuable lessons.

"It'll make our lives significantly easier," Lehman says.

2. Wireless Network Support: A Complex Ecosystem

Be prepared to spend a significant amount of time working through support issues, warns Lehman. Why? In the Wild West of mobility, you'll need to support all kinds of consumer devices that tap into your wireless network.

One of Lehman's goals was to have personal tech support for students at all hours. This means he has had to create a tiered support infrastructure leveraging Meru, local IT staff and an outsourcer. "Getting that set up is proving to be more challenging," Lehman says, because of the many kinds of mobile endpoints that need to be supported 24 hours a day.

Apple (AAPL) devices have surprisingly posed less of a problem connecting to the wireless network, Lehman says, compared to older technology and even BlackBerries. "We heard some nightmare stories about the iPad in college environments," he says, "but we have not experienced that at all."

3. Pick Your Partner Wisely

Lehman says that he did not choose the right integrator.

At crunch time in the deployment phase of wireless access points, two key people—a PMI-certified project manager and a Meru systems-certified network engineer—quit the systems integration firm (which Lehman declines to name).

The integrator replaced them with newbies, he says. "We paid dearly for that," Lehman says. "We had to provide more of our internal resources to compensate for their lack of knowledge. It significantly impacted our deployment."

Truth is, advanced wireless networking skills are hot right now. It's hard to keep people. That's why it's important to evaluate an integrator's bench strength prior to signing a contract, Lehman says.

4. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

Overhauling a massive wireless network isn't for people with a faint heart or tight wallet—and this spawns a lot of competition.

As negotiations came down to the wire, Lehman was surprised at the price flexibility of wireless vendors. A wireless network is one of those projects that makes even large vendors like Cisco willing to lower their prices, he says.

"I've seen more [price flexibility] on the wireless side based on volume than the wired side," Lehman says. "I think it's because the end marketplace in colleges is being hotly contested by vendors. And frankly, we're spending a lot of money."


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