Creating a Wi-Fi Foundation to Improve Mobile App Experience

By Nawar Hasan, Technical Manager for Middle East and Turkey at Aruba Networks

Smartphones and tablets have quickly become the majority of computing devices that make their way onto workplace Wi-Fi networks. Having a solid Wi-Fi foundation to support a large number of mobile devices in the workplace is now table stakes.

IT should consider modern Wi-Fi solutions that make it easy for #GenMobile to use smartphones and tablets for web apps as well as everyday workplace services such as telephony, printing and screen sharing. Improved app visibility and bandwidth controls are essential tools for managing the proliferation of mobile devices and apps in the workplace – and maximizing user experience.

Smartphones and tablets have become an integral part of our lives. According to a recent Aruba study, #GenMobile – an emerging population marked by their preference for all things mobile—would give up coffee and eating out before their mobile devices. Our addiction to smartphones and tablets extends to the workplace. Tucked away in bags and pockets, these devices are the first to connect to company Wi-Fi networks when employees and guests walk on site. Unlike desktop and even laptop computers, we don’t have to be stationary to use work applications on our smartphones and tablets.

Instead of a desk phone, #GenMobile communicates using apps such as Microsoft Lync, FaceTime, Hangouts, WebEx and GoToMeeting, which establish peer-to-peer voice and video flows. And as soon as the Wi-Fi network is in range, the Photos app on almost every iPhone automatically synchronizes to iCloud. Then there‘s the YouTube effect—streams of video content have become a core part of everyone’s Internet experience on all devices.

Collaboration with mobile apps requires a WLAN smart enough to know Lync from YouTube—and treat that traffic accordingly. With a little upfront planning and some smart technology, IT can dramatically improve the quality of users’ mobile app experience on workplace Wi-Fi networks.

Here are some essential Wi-Fi services, which provide a smartphone and tablet experience that #GenMobile can trust.

Push Wi-Fi everywhere: Wi-Fi coverage must extend pervasively to all parts of a campus, with uniformly good signal levels. RF management techniques should be employed to maximize coverage and network capacity, while avoiding interference. To achieve 100 percent coverage in all areas, the WLAN should be designed with a minimum RF signal (RSSI) level of -67 dBm, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 25 dB and co-channel separation of 20 dB.

Increase Wi-Fi Capacity with a stable 802.11ac Wi-Fi foundation: Wi-Fi coverage must be able to handle multiple devices per user and extend to hallways, corners, elevators and even outdoors. Products supporting the 802.11ac gigabit Wi-Fi network standard are now available for indoor and outdoor installation at a price point close to 802.11n. 802.11ac access points (APs) turbocharge mobile apps by expanding the available bandwidth and the number of devices that an individual AP can serve simultaneously. 802.11ac provides four to six times higher speeds than 802.11n, allowing devices to transmit faster and free up the shared channel for someone else to use. 802.11ac access points (APs) are ideal for high-density areas; IT can redirect older 802.11n APs to lower density areas to ensure complete coverage.

Deliver a reliable unified communication experience: Voice and video traffic must have priority handling to ensure that collaboration apps such as Skype, Lync and Hangouts operate reliably. In order to prioritize delay-sensitive unified communication traffic on the Wi-Fi network, IT needs to know it’s there. Integrating the Wi-Fi network with unified communication servers like Microsoft Lync lets IT accurately fingerprint voice and video sessions and gain the visibility they need to prioritize delay-sensitive unified communication traffic that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. With this integration, unified communication sessions to and from personal devices can now be routed inside the firewall, thereby eliminating the latency of a VPN connection.

Wireless screen mirroring: Smartphones and tablets support wireless screen-sharing protocols such as Apple AirPlay or DLNA technology, which require special handling on workplace Wi-Fi networks.Screen-sharing must be bridged across network segments because personal and guest devices are often on different VLANs than networkconnected screens, projectors and media devices like Apple TV or Chromecast. IT must also be able to limit wireless screen-sharing based on a user’s role. For example, in a classroom, this will prevent students from taking over a teacher’s screen.

Wireless printing: Wi-Fi networks need special provisions to support Apple AirPrint technology that allows iPhone and iPad users to locate and send print jobs to networked printers, which are often wired and on a separate VLAN than user devices. So, much like the AirPlay technology, AirPrint traffic has to be bridged across network segments. In addition to bridging print traffic, the Wi-Fi network should also leverage user location to ensure users are shown only the closest printer.

App sign-on: Wi-Fi networks can play a part in minimizing the manual entry required on small smartphone and tablet keyboards. Users typically login to the Wi-Fi network with the same username and password they use for accessing web apps like Box and Salesforce.com. Your Wi-Fi network should support SAML and pre-register users with Identity Providers upon successful authentication. The Wi-Fi network can then act as the proxy to provide user credentials to web applications, eliminating the need for Wi-Fi authenticated users to repeat the frustrating username-password authentication process on their small browser screens.

Regain control of cloud-based apps: To differentiate web traffic for work from personal-use traffic and control it appropriately, invest in next-generation mobility firewalls that perform deep packet inspection. These firewalls provide granular application information that lets IT make informed decisions about allocating Wi-Fi bandwidth for mission-critical apps. IT can also use this information to control bandwidth-consuming peer-to-peer apps like BitTorrent that originate from Wi-Fi enabled devices.

Monitor app performance on networks: Ensure your network management tools have application-awareness, which is key to speedy problem resolution and making informed design decisions. In addition, having a single pane of glass to monitor networks and applications eliminates the need for IT to reproduce errors and correlate data from multiple platforms and people.