It seems like WiFi is everywhere these days, from our homes, to offices and coffee shops, and all of our consumer electronic devices, from smartphones to tablets to laptops have WiFi chips to connect to them.
With all these WiFi-enabled devices around, it’s easy to think that WiFi is WiFi, and the same cheap wireless modules that work fine for your child’s £100 tablet will do the job in enterprise class applications as well, but that isn’t quite the case.
Just like an enterprise server has higher quality parts than your average desktop computer, wireless modules as well are made in different grades and to different performance and security standards to meet various markets.
These days more and more of us are learning to make good coffee at home, often buying our own grinders, quality beans, and even high quality personal espresso machines. Yet walk into any Starbucks, and you’ll find that the equipment they use is on a completely different level than even the most dedicated home brewer. The coffee grinders and espresso machines in a quality coffee shop are professional grade, and priced to match, but can reliably serve a busy cafe with consistently good coffee day in and day out.
Just like coffee equipment comes in different grades for consumer and professional use, wireless modules do too. Wireless modules designed for the price-sensitive consumer market often use components, software and firmware that’s just good enough to do the job and no more. Dropped connections, poor reception, and sub-par performance are no surprise, and technical support is unheard of.
While it is merely annoying when your WiFi connection is interrupted while checking Facebook, it can be potentially costly or even devastating, when a financial transaction, business process or industrial control signal is interrupted or delayed.
To prevent that, enterprise WiFi modules, are made with better components and designed to higher standards. For instance, the Lantronix PremierWave 2050, is made to industrial grade, with wide temperature range operation, antenna diversity for redundancy, and stringent certifications which not only ensure reliability but also accelerate time to market.
While consumer grade WiFi often stops at 802.11n which tops out at 150Mbps, enterprise WiFi modules like the 2050 work in the 5Ghz range using 802.11ac, allowing for much higher bandwidth of up to 433Mbps, allowing devices to serve a greater number of users.
Enterprise WiFi modules don’t just perform better and more reliably, they’re also able to join, or create WiFi networks with enterprise class security.
Whereas WiFi networks using WPA or WPA2 Personal use a simple password (or a pre-shared key in security parlance,) on an WPA or WPA2 Enterprise network, each user has their own username and password, managed by a backend RADIUS authentication server. With Enterprise, encryption keys are securely created and assigned per session. This not only enhances security and eliminates the risk of a shared password, but also allows for user level access control.
Configuration that Scales
When it comes to WiFi configuration, there’s also a world of difference between consumer and enterprise devices.
We’re all familiar with the process of logging into our laptop or smartphone, searching for available wireless networks, entering the passphrase and connecting. Easy enough and appropriate for consumer devices, but time consuming and completely manual. For businesses which may have to provision dozens or even hundreds of devices, this approach doesn’t scale.
Commercial grade WiFi modules like the PremierWave 2050 offer CLI and XML configuration options which simplify deploying large numbers of WiFi devices, allowing provisioning to be easily replicated and scripted for reliability and efficiency.
Figure 1: The PremierWave 2050 Evaluation Kit is now available from Alpha Micro Components
The PremierWave 2050 has its own evaluation board which makes testing and evaluating this enterprise WiFi module easy. The evaluation board includes serial connectors, mini USB connectors, an Ethernet port, JTAG, dual antennas and power connections.
Using the board, users can easily test the PremierWave 2050 as an Ethernet to WiFi bridge – for instance to add WiFi to a device already designed for Ethernet. Its mini and full size USB ports allow it to be easily tested and configured from a laptop computer and its RS232 ports let it interface with serial devices.