Opinion: UCC and WiFi – potential Best Friends Forever

Dean Young of T-Systems gives his views on how UCC and WiFi are a good match for future systems

September 5, 2011

By Dean Young, Head of Telecommunication Pre-sales at T-Systems in South Africa

As Wireless LANs (that make use of the 802.11n standard) become more prevalent, enterprises are looking at how they can utilise WiFi as part of their overall Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) efforts.

However, in order to realise the benefits that come with a UCC environment that harnesses WiFi, UCC managers and their network engineers will have to look at how they can guarantee a good users experience particularly when it comes to services such as videoconferencing.

Unlike the typical data traffic on the enterprise wireless network, the real-time nature of video is particularly sensitive to packet loss, latency and jitter.

So where to start?

UCC over WiFi starts with good WLAN design.  UCC managers , for example, must ensure that engineers deploy access points in larger numbers within areas where video over WiFi users congregate such as conference rooms or lecture halls. This is also includes WiFi calling; if this functionality is required throughout the enterprise, you will have to ensure full coverage.

Also, establishing how many users are in a given area or how far away a client device is from the nearest access point, UCC teams and networking engineers can determine whether the coverage and density of a Wireless LAN is affecting the delivery of video over WiFi.

It is absolutely pointless to make WiFi part of your UCC strategy if you cannot guarantee coverage strength and reliability.

The tools

The latest evolution of the WiFi standard, 802.11n offers WiFi Multimedia

(WMM) (a subset of 802.11e) that enables Quality of Service (QoS) and prioritisation for real-time applications on the WLAN. However, before for offering video over WiFi, verify that network engineers have enabled these WMM features on the network.

Additionally, 802.11n does offer vastly improved throughput and power, however, if you opt for the previous iterations of the WiFi standard you are going to struggle with coverage and importantly Quality of Service (QoS) issues.

It is well-known fact that wireless interference can affect any data transfer on the WLAN, but can be particularly painful on real-time video and voice. It is a congested highway of Microwaves, cordless phones and other transmitters, all fighting for airspace.

Here, UCC managers must ensure that network engineers have the right tools to identify the sources of interference and remediate them. A solution is to configure video over WiFi 5 GHz spectrum, which has less competition.  Many enterprises operate a WLAN on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectra simultaneously as a lot legacy client devices can only transmit on the 2.4 GHz spectrum.

The benefits and reality

The benefit of WiFi as part of your UCC is actually quite obvious.  It eliminates the need for unnecessary cabling and offers productivity gains such as ‘hot desking’ – users are no longer limited to dedicated workstations, which is particularly beneficial if company has a large mobile workforce.

In terms of collaboration, users can access these tools from basically anywhere in the building, quickly get up-to-date information on a latest project, whether a person is available or where and when the next meeting will take place.

In the future, GSM switch-over will also be a major plus.  Effectively cellular phones will act as Internet Protocol (IP) phones when entering the building and will automatically switch back to the GSM network when leaving for a meeting.  This means one number can be used to contact a person and accessibility and available are improved.

However, this said it is critical that when companies do go the UCC and WiFi route they ensure that their wireless networks are up to the challenge.

Access and reliability are major considerations that form the cornerstone of both a successful WiFi and UCC and ultimately the migration to cloud computing.

Ultimately, video over WiFi is a balancing act. An organization’s UC and network teams will need to rely on each other’s skill set to ensure a quality video experience for their end users.

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