Dec 02 2021

How to Get Flawless Wi-Fi Anywhere

Challenging locations can make it difficult to connect. But the right Wi-Fi 6-enabled technology will help.

As the fear of the pandemic recedes, people have returned to in-store shopping, restaurants, and large, public events and spaces — and that means businesses must deliver high-quality Wi-Fi, including outdoors and in challenging locations.

Hansel Auto Group, for example, used to have slow Wi-Fi access and spotty — sometimes nonexistent — access outdoors. The Santa Rosa, Calif.-based company recently installed new Cisco Meraki Wi-Fi access points and networking equipment, blanketing its nine car dealerships in five locations with fast and ubiquitous wireless internet access.

“Wi-Fi is everywhere, outdoors and indoors,” says Joshua Demitro, Hansel Auto’s IT manager. “Our salespeople with iPads doing electronic sales can now do FaceTime or Zoom meetings to show cars to customers and not have to drive the cars all over the place to find Wi-Fi access. Same with our staff in the body and service areas: They can do things and not worry about where we have Wi-Fi.”

Consumers today demand high-quality Wi-Fi wherever they go. For businesses, event organizers and sports teams, that means building wireless networks that can accommodate anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of people who want to access the internet simultaneously.

“Wi-Fi has gotten to a point where we think of it as a public resource. If people go to a shopping center, airport or sports stadium, they expect to open up their mobile devices and find Wi-Fi at their destinations,” says J. Gerry Purdy, principal analyst at Mobilocity.

Learn more about Hansel Auto Group's journey to stronger customer experiences through Wi-Fi.

Businesses are increasingly investing in wireless equipment that supports Wi-Fi 6, the latest standard, which offers faster speeds and enables higher capacity, allowing more people to connect in congested areas.

“It’s a more efficient use of the Wi-Fi spectrum, which lends itself to dense Wi-Fi environments,” says IDC analyst Brandon Butler.

Wi-Fi 6 Gets Employees Revved Up

When Demitro joined Hansel Auto Group in the summer of 2020, he inherited a ­network and Wi-Fi infrastructure that ­desperately needed to be upgraded.

At the time, a third-party provider managed the company’s switches and indoor wireless networks, made up of mostly Cisco Aironet APs running on Cisco wireless LAN controllers.

Hansel Auto wanted to expand ­wireless access to its outdoor sales lots, so the company installed a single outdoor Cisco Meraki AP at each location, doing away with its service provider and managing the APs itself. However, a single AP outdoors didn’t provide full wireless coverage outside, and having a disparate set of wireless networks caused compatibility problems that frustrated users.

“With the mismatch of equipment, the access points were not handing off to each other, so users would lose their connections as they walked between two APs,” says Leif Wennersten, the company’s remote systems administrator.

Employees’ biggest complaint, however, was that the Wi-Fi was too slow. Mechanics use laptops to run diagnostics on cars, but at some dealerships, they had to connect to the guest Wi-Fi, which was also used by customers to stream video on their phones while waiting for their cars to be serviced, Demitro says.

Joshua Demitro

Standardizing on Cisco Meraki equipment makes network management a smooth ride for Hansel Auto Group IT Manager Joshua Demitro. Photography By Cody Pickens 

Hansel Auto decided to take back control of its network by standardizing on new Cisco Meraki switches and Wi-Fi 6 gear and managing it all themselves. In doing so, the company doubled its number of APs to 96, providing users with fast, more secure connections.

“It was extremely important that we have Wi-Fi 6 because of the advantages: higher speeds and the ability to handle more clients connected to one AP at a time,” Demitro says.

Installation was easy. First, the five-person IT staff installed the new APs, including outdoor APs on top of the company’s buildings. Then it replaced the access switches in each dealership and installed new core switches and new Fortinet firewalls.

Both the guest and employee Wi-Fi is much faster, and employees are on separate, more secure service set identifiers. Employees with iPad devices or laptops can roam the dealership and not worry about losing their connections.

“We no longer have complaints about the wireless,” Demitro says.

Major League Soccer Fans Score with Flawless Wi-fi

In May, Major League Soccer team FC Cincinnati opened TQL Stadium, a state-of-the-art, 26,000-seat facility that features a wireless network made up of 650 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Aruba Wi-Fi 6 access points.

FC Cincinnati installed about half the APs under seats in the stadium’s bowl. The remaining APs were placed in concourse areas, concession stands, employee offices, locker rooms and the media center.

The team used a site survey and HPE Aruba’s best practices to optimize placement of the APs, which are managed using Aruba mobility controllers.

“Our goal was to provide ubiquitous and easy wireless access to every single fan in the building, as well as to support back-of-house operational functions,” says Dan Lolli, FC Cincinnati’s vice president of facilities and the stadium’s general manager.

To admit fans, employees at the entrances use handheld devices connected to Wi-Fi to scan digital tickets on mobile phones. Some merchandise and concession stands also use handheld scanners to process transactions over Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi also enables team staffers to wander the stadium, stay connected and do their jobs. Audiovisual technicians and managers, for example, can control content on TVs and speakers from their laptops and iPad devices anywhere in the stadium, thanks to seamless Wi-Fi connectivity.

Overall, the wireless network is performing as designed and meeting expectations, Lolli says.

“While inside of TQL Stadium, we want fans to enjoy the game and at the same time stay connected to the outside world, and seamless Wi-Fi enables that to happen,” he says. “It is a crucial part of the fan experience.”

An Internet Experience For the Biggest Crowds

Concert production company Clair Global provides communications and IT infrastructure for large music festivals like BottleRock Napa Valley in California. The Lititz, Pa.-based company delivered Wi-Fi to concert organizers and about 120,000 music lovers who flocked to downtown Napa for the three-day Labor Day weekend festival this year.

“Cellular becomes unreliable in these big events, because they are over capacity. So, a lot of times, people will just want to connect to our Wi-Fi,” says Ethan Quint, account manager and ­manager of Clair Global’s data services division. “In most cases, our Wi-Fi performed much better than cellular.”

Watch experts discuss the latest in networking and Wi-Fi in the CDW Tech Talk series. Click the banner below to explore the webcasts.

An onsite Clair Global IT staff built a network with more than 50 Cisco switches and 300 access points, a combination of Cisco Catalyst 9100 Series Wi-Fi 6 and Cisco Meraki APs.

Behind the stage, staffers deployed Cisco Meraki APs for the festival’s command center, musicians, security and other back-of-house needs. They placed one AP per trailer, and in many cases used Meraki’s hospitality APs, which feature Ethernet ports for printers, Voice over IP phones and other equipment, Quint says.

Clair Global also installed Meraki APs at the gate for registering tickets for entry and at the COVID-19 testing stations. “Meraki is a great way to manage some of the lower-density areas, where the cloud-managed platform makes it nice and easy to manage, maintain and monitor,” Quint says.

For the general public, the company mounted Cisco Catalyst Wi-Fi 6 APs with wireless controllers in front of and on either side of the stages. Staffers also placed APs atop lighting and speaker towers.

Overall, about 200 of the 300 APs were fan-facing, Quint says.

Before the festival, Clair Global’s team of 12 IT staffers, including Quint, installed Cisco switches throughout the perimeter of the venue and connected them to a fiber network. During the festival, the team managed network operations in a trailer with a small data center.

Staffers used Cisco DNA Center network management software to automate network management tasks, such as pushing configurations to switches. They also used PRTG network monitoring software to gauge uptime and network performance.  Overall, the Wi-Fi worked perfectly at BottleRock, Quint says.

“The Wi-Fi experience was phenomenal, and a lot of that was attributed to the new 802.11ax protocol,” says Quint, using the technical term for Wi-Fi 6. “It just enables high-density Wi-Fi.” 

Photography By Cody Pickens

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