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Wireless LAN technology has advanced significantly over the past three years. If your warehouse WLAN infrastructure is more than three to five years old, you may be missing out on important new capabilities — and that could be holding back your warehouse management operations.

The most recent Wi-Fi standard is IEEE 802.11ac (introduced in 2013), which offers 1.2 gigabits-per-second performance, nearly twice the speed of the previous Wi-Fi standard. Upgrading to a new WLAN can provide significantly more bandwidth, which can accommodate a larger number of mobile devices and data-intensive applications.

Cloud-based and browser-based applications will increase the load on the network as more users access those solutions. Your WLAN should deliver enough bandwidth to support an increasing amount of data, voice, and video content, as well as a mix of both consumer and industrial devices and machine-to-machine communications. There are now advanced mobile computers on the market that support both Windows and Android, like the Zebra Technologies MC 9000 line of terminals; the WLAN should be capable of supporting multiple OS platforms.

WLAN Configuration

The WLAN should also be properly configured. While the 802.11ac standard provides much more bandwidth for a WLAN, it still relies on smart network architecting, and properly segmenting and routing traffic over that network. That’s especially important in a warehouse environment where there may be mobile clients in use that support earlier 802.11 versions. Zebra Technologies, for example, offers 802.11ac infrastructure that not only supports 802.11b/g/n devices, but that also offers higher data rate performance for those clients.

New WLAN solutions include monitoring and management tools that make it easier than ever to check the health and performance of the network, address coverage gaps, prevent unauthorized access, and improve performance.

Zebra Technologies, for example, offers its AirDefense Infrastructure Management solution to provide centralized management, including multi-vendor/heterogeneous infrastructure management and an aggregated view of the data on multiple appliances. Zebra’s WiNG operating system and NSight offerings also provide management features that include network monitoring, troubleshooting, and reporting.

Have you extended the WLAN to every area of warehouse operations? Mobile computing and barcode scanning can improve efficiency and productivity in receiving, shipping, and for all picking/putaway operations. Managers armed with iPads and forktruck drivers using vehicle-mounted devices can also benefit from wireless connectivity.

If you are installing a new WLAN, make sure your vendor conducts a thorough site survey to ensure you have the right number of access points, and that they are properly positioned through the facility. Newer access points can automatically adjust power and channel settings to decrease interference problems.

Make sure your WLAN has all the latest firmware updates on client devices and on the access points. This will ensure that you have all the bug fixes, standards compliance updates, and other enhancements that will keep the equipment working properly. If you don’t keep the firmware updated, you could experience client/AP association issues or other glitches.

WLAN Coverage

Even if you are able to provide reliable coverage across your facility after the initial installation, you may discover coverage gaps over time. That’s because overage changes as storage bins and racks are reconfigured. Your vendor or integration partner should conduct regular site surveys and re-tunes to ensure performance. WLAN monitoring tools can also help spot these problems before they affect your applications.

By investing in a modern WLAN infrastructure and management tools, you can optimize your wireless performance in the warehouse. In that way, you can ensure your mobile applications are running smoothly while providing reliable and robust communications for your employees.

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