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Don’t Let Black Friday Overwhelm Your Retail Wireless Network

Patrick Groot Nuelend Solutions Architect, EMEA Published 18 Jun 2018

Black Friday, the near-panic shopping day after Thanksgiving, is almost here again. The day, whose name originated in Philadelphia during the mid-sixties, when traffic piled up on city streets after Thanksgiving, has evolved into a global retail shopageddon. As the start of the holiday shopping season, retailers offer great deals to attract more shoppers than during any other weekend of the year.

With the expected record peak of shoppers comes a high dependency on flawless store operation – this weekend more than ever! Every element of the store will be tested to the max, so preparation is critical, as is a safety net should anything fail. A key piece of the whole store environment is the wireless network. With the rise of mobility, that’s where most devices are connected. And not just the store devices, such as barcode terminals and printers, but also more and more shoppers are using their smartphones while they shop. By offering things like in-store navigation through a loyalty app, tailored advertising and couponing, along with expert assistance, retailers are providing a better customer experience to buyers using their personal smartphones. A flawless wireless network is critical for all the aforementioned devices and applications – if your network is down, your store is down!

So what does all this mean? The key is that your wireless network must cope with the high demand for speed and capacity. And it must deliver the same performance – in terms of reliability and security – as a wired network. There’s another aspect to this too. Many of the people I speak to in IT face the twin pressures of less time and less budget. So, wireless must be easy and cost-effective to deploy, monitor, and run.

Here are five important steps to ensure that your Wi-Fi networks will deliver the reliability and performance demanded by your users.

  1. Optimize Security
    If not handled securely, Wi-Fi can become an Achilles heel. A spotlight was shone on security during the recently-reported WPA2 concerns. You can mitigate threats with a network that offers government-grade security protection. Some networks also help IT teams integrate security and legal requirements into everyday workflows (i.e. automated security tests and audits to validate compliance with Payment Card Industry data management standards). We also advise installing systems that provide an array of options for validating users. These include making it easy for your IT teams to certify and on-board employee devices so that they are cleared to attach to the corporate network. It’s important to ensure that you can easily comply with legal requirements around guest access with the ability to capture guest mobile numbers to send them codes to validate their details when they login.  
  2. Visualize and Control Applications
    Some of your network traffic, for example, your inventory management application, may be more business critical than others. So it’s useful to have remote monitoring tools that can tell you what’s running on your network and allow you to prioritize the traffic. For instance, you may want to ensure that loyalty app traffic is given priority between say 9am and 5pm, ahead of requests for Facebook and general web searches. The best monitoring systems use deep packet inspection engines, built in to management software and wireless access points, to allow you to monitor traffic. You can then use rule-based firewalls to filter or throttle non-priority traffic.
  3. Centralize Troubleshooting
    When you have access to tools which can remotely diagnose networking issues quickly from the central IT desk, you no longer need IT staff in each store. These tools provide the ability to remotely reboot, adjust, and change configurations for any remote access point. Pro-active troubleshooting tools can test the end-to-end connection between the client and application server, before users arrive in the morning. You can also set the system to provide alerts to your team when they are needed to step-in and resolve an issue. Of all the improvements to Wi-Fi in recent years, this feature offers the greatest potential for saving costs by resolving issues without the need for an engineer on-site.
  4. Automate Management
    Your network should be able to self-manage – with self-aware access points taking actions to remedy issues such as interference, overloading of access points or device failure. The network can automate changes to overcome these issues – swapping between frequency channels, increasing power, and rebalancing loads across access points. You can define the rules for self-managing the network to head off problems before users see any issues and to greatly reduce the admin burden on your team.
  5. See everything everywhere:  When I speak to administrators, the number one thing that worries them most is not seeing what’s happening on their network – there’s nothing worse than a flood of unexpected calls to the helpdesk. We’ve focused on this area in our latest Wi-Fi administration tools to provide constant insight over the network’s health. This visibility provides a wealth of real-time data from the status of individual access points, to loads, to a view of what apps are running, to the number and types of devices connecting to the network.

Wi-Fi as a Utility

In the eyes of users, Wi-Fi has become a utility – one we just expect to work. In the past, a lot of manual effort was required behind the scenes to ensure that users receive this performance. New management tools have now simplified installing, monitoring, managing and troubleshooting networks. Wi-Fi is becoming a true utility – requiring much reduced time from IT. Add in the faster speeds and easier installation of 802.11ac Wave 2 APs that meet the growing capacity demands of users, and Wi-Fi is ready to provide the core network foundation for your retail business for the busiest weekend of the year and for the foreseeable future.

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