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What You Don't Know About Warehouse Wireless Coverage

Your new WiFi router arrives in the mail, and after spending an hour on the phone with your service provider, you realize that the signal doesn’t reach the other end of your house. Maybe your connection starts to lag when your kids are streaming on their tablets at the same time you’re trying to stream your favorite show. Maybe your internet just goes out regularly and it keeps you from getting work done – we’ve all been there. Unfortunately, people using scanning devices in their warehouse often run into similar issues.

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Setting up a wireless infrastructure in your warehouse can often be challenging. But a strong network setup lies at the heart of your warehouse technology - it ties your hardware and software together. Without a good network, your investment could be wasted. There are three things you can do to make this step in your hardware implementation a breeze:

1. Plan Ahead

Your wireless network should be top of mind during your implementation. Start by mapping out your warehouse.

  • Where are my current access points?
  • Where are my mobile devices being used the most?
  • Where are we experiencing pain points with our current network?
  • Take inventory of all your hardware that needs to be connected 
    Example: Our printers are not wireless currently...should we plan to upgrade?

One way to see how far your network is reaching is with a heat map. A heat map is a colored map that shows how good your signal strength is. This way, you can physically see dead spots in your warehouse so you can strategically place access points, or a device that creates a wireless local area network. Placing access points intelligently will support the most users with the fewest number of access points. Start by placing access points in the middle of the office and check the signal levels. 

The most critical area to plan for is upgrading your WLAN hardware to support the latest wireless protocol approved for use by the standards committee, 802.11n. The speed in 802.11n is much faster than 802.11b and 802.11g; and the signals go further with higher quality. The speed and increased user count supported by 802.11n equipment is well worth the upgrade.

2. Survey your Surroundings

Lots of things influence a network: the type of warehouse (brick, metal, concrete, drywall structure), the type of inventory kept there, machine interference, other companies around you, the device radios that are connecting to the network, and many more scenarios. 

Even if you already have a network in place, larger companies will benefit from a site survey to determine what equipment will be needed and where access points should be placed. Smaller companies can usually get by without a survey if their physical location is limited. At this point, you're probably wondering why you can't just use a range extender? Range extenders are limited on the number of devices they can handle, meaning that the range-extender plan could backfire and actually cause your network to get slower. That being said, an extra access point (which actually expands your bandwidth instead of just extending your range) or two goes a long way, so budget accordingly.

Consider what frequency band your WiFi is currently using. There are two frequency bands: 2.4 and 5 GHz. 2.4 GHz tends to have a larger range, while 5 GHz can carry more data; however, 5 GHz networks do not penetrate solid objects very well. Commonly, wireless networks signals can make it through two walls before losing connectivity. Extra thick or plaster walls with steel mesh inside will degrade or stop the signal more quickly. Floors and ceilings count as walls, too, so learn to think in three dimensions while placing access points. For this reason, we typically recommend the 2.4 GHz band. Additionally, avoid placing access points close to windows, because the signal goes through glass as easily as it goes through air. Broadcasting your network to the world wastes bandwidth your users need and invites security issues.

3. Secure your Network

Every wireless access point sends a unique number attached to wireless data packets to differentiate that WLAN from others known as an SSID (Service Set Identifier) - also known as the name you choose for your WiFi network. Many people prefer to have an SSID specifically for their barcode devices or other hardware. This way, only scanner and printers have access to the wireless network which prevents employees from connecting their smartphones and causing a lag in speed. If you choose to have an SSID specifically for hardware, consider setting up a "guest" SSID so that guests and employees can securely connect their devices. Along these lines, you might choose to "whitelist" the websites needed for scanning and "blacklist" all other websites. This prevents employees from using the scanners to visit corrupt websites that could potentially let in hackers.

While they might think that they are being helpful, employees at your warehouse could be at the root of a security breach by purchasing a router and setting it up on their own. When this happens, there is no one managing this connection, which can blow a hole in your security network. Use regular sweeps with wireless monitoring tools to find and quickly close any loopholes. Discourage such experimentation by users by ensuring everyone who wants wireless access has it and by offering to solve wireless problems for users immediately. 

Always plan for security upgrades. Keep your software, including wireless access points and routers, up to date. Most of the time, a firmware upgrade will be enough. Additionally, older equipment will reach a point where it must be replaced, and that point will usually be decided by a needed security upgrade.

Bonus: Leverage a team that can help

Recently, we had a customer in a very industrialized warehouse call our support line about their wireless RF scanner. It turns out that they were using a 5 GHz frequency band in a warehouse full of steel. Our hardware support engineers suggested a switch to a 2.4 GHz band, and it fixed their connectivity problems. Another common support issue is being logged out randomly. If this is you, may consider automating WiFi optimization and analysis through a tool like Zebra's WorryFree WiFi.  This tool allows you to view connection status, live WiFi device coverage, and pinpoint connection failure errors. 

If you have wireless connectivity questions, our hardware experts are here to help.

Talk to a Hardware Advisor