Managed Services, Network

WiFi Networks in 2023 vs. 2021: What Has Changed in Just Two Years?

Chaz Hager March 16 2023

The short answer is: A lot. 

If you try to build a WiFi network with knowledge, assumptions, and technologies from 2021, you’re obsolete before you even start. Here are the changes you need to know:

High-quality end-user experience trumps everything 

The focus of delivering WiFi has shifted from the technical details to the user experience as the technology matures. Whether the end-users are employees, customers, or students, they don’t want to think about joining a WiFi network. It’s just something they do naturally.  

A mindset change is underway: Instead of hardware and budget, IT must focus on speed, reliability, and security:  

  • How do you achieve the right amount of coverage for the density?  

  • Is the device onboarding experience (i.e., how a device joins a network) intuitive and frustration-free for the end user? 

  • Can end-users easily and safely exit the internet? 

  • Does the network self-heal so end-users wouldn’t even know that a glitch has happened? 

A self-healing network prevents service interruptions and delivers a seamless user experience. A robust one consists of two elements: A tech team that responds to alerts immediately and the software to detect issues, ensure high availability, perform load balancing, adjust radio settings, and monitor internal routing. 

WiFi Networks in 2023 vs. 2021: What Has Changed in Just Two Years?

Zero-trust architecture overtakes perimeter security 

Device onboarding used to focus on perimeter security, which employs tools such as firewalls and browser isolation systems to ward off threats. However, this approach is no longer enough as more activities occur beyond the four walls of a corporate office or institution, and many processes have migrated to the cloud. 

IT departments must consider how their networks handle cloud applications and ensure that only authorized personnel can access company data. Microsoft has been advocating for the concept of zero trust, which continuously verifies the identity of a user no matter what network (e.g., hotel, Starbucks) they access data or applications from.  

Cloud networking and zero trust have inherently changed how and where security is delivered. The approach shifts the focus from establishing a secured border to verifying identity to authorize access. It supplements perimeter security to support hybrid working, enabling the flexibility to access company data and applications from anywhere and with any device. 

Additionally, a zero-trust architecture allows for a device onboarding process that can identify each user. It enables IT to quickly and easily isolate issues, narrow them down to a person or device, and effectively prevent the lateral movement of an intruder. 

WiFi 6E supports new applications and IoT devices 

WiFi technologies used to go by the 802.11 AC standards, and the last one that followed the naming convention was 80211 AC Wave 2, which became WiFi 5. Then, the naming system changed to 80211 AX, better known as WiFi 6. WiFi 6E is the most recent version and includes a new spectrum not available until now. 

WiFi 6 and prior generations use 2.4 and 5 gigahertz radios, and WiFi 6E adds the 6 gigahertz band. The new technology significantly improves density, speed, and latency. The reduced interference can handle the proliferation of connected devices installed close to each other to deliver an enhanced experience. 

In particular, WiFi 6E provides the bandwidth to support the internet of things (IoT) devices at a commercial and industrial scale. However, the technology alone isn’t enough. Organizations must have the remote support structure and capabilities to implement these devices in numerous dispersed locations. 

Common networking concerns and how to address them 

Implementing a WiFi network to support a modern user experience requires much more than what meets the eye. In fact, the more simple the onboarding and authentication process, the more is happening under the hood to ensure that everything works without a glitch. 

Here are some common challenges IT departments face when setting up a WiFi network: 

  • Determine the right amount of coverage for the density of devices.  

  • Develop a user-friendly and streamlined onboarding and authentication process. 

  • Monitor and manage network activities to prevent downtime and unauthorized access. 

  • Maintain and upgrade the hardware and software regularly to deliver a relevant experience.  

  • Stay current with numerous network and cloud security best practices to safeguard an increasingly complex architecture.  

Many IT departments don’t have the resource and skills to cover all the bases. Moreover, many features and capabilities that were nice-to-haves are now table stakes — keeping up with fast-evolving user expectations has become more challenging than ever.  

You don’t have to go it alone 

Partnering with a managed networking services provider can help you access specialized knowledge, respond to potential issues proactively, address vulnerabilities quickly, and free up internal resources to focus on strategic initiatives. 

An external vendor won’t replace your internal resources, which have an in-depth understanding of your organization’s unique business requirements. Your partner brings the specialized knowledge, and your team helps them plan the execution to ensure the outcome meets your business requirements and causes the least disruption during implementation. 

Northriver works alongside your internal IT team to deliver managed WiFi and network services. We help you monitor and maintain your infrastructure to keep it current and secure. You can balance your resources and reduce the strain on your staff. 

Want to find out where you stand and how to improve your WiFi network? Request a free wireless heat map to see where you stand and how you can improve your WiFi network. 

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