- John A. Lahtinen, HartfordBusiness.com, February 18th, 2013

It is projected that the global mobile workforce will exceed one billion this year. The proliferation of devices is not only causing headaches for IT departments, but also causing failures in wireless networks that were designed for occasional laptop use to connect to internal resources such as servers and printers.

With more and more Internet-enabled devices popping up each year, the problem is not going away anytime soon.

"Many wireless networks cannot support the rich type of data that people are now accessing — online video, music services, etc. that people are streaming to their devices," says Geoffrey James, CEO of Ash Creek Enterprises, an IT provider in Stratford offering solutions that revolve around the mobility space, including mobile access to e-mail, VPN connectivity, business wireless networking, guest access solutions, video conferencing and core networking.

James said when each user has three devices instead of a single laptop, the result is oversubscription failures in high density areas of the business which in turn cause hot and cold connectivity issues.

"Physical network equipment also is getting bogged down with high Mb traffic and also saturating Internet connections — 'the Internet is slow' complaints," he added.

The issue of the capability of devices often exceeding that of the network is common as users more often replace phones and tablets than companies replace their wireless network gear. While most new wireless devices are compatible with older wireless technologies, they typically operate at a much slower speed as a result.

According to James, there are steps companies can take in order to ensure WiFi capacity isn't hindered throughout the day, the best approach being correctly sizing the network to handle the capacity. In addition, most solutions offer the capability to separate guest and employee WiFi.

Strain on networks also brings up the question of security, particularly when talking about personal devices in the office.

"Most businesses start by carving their network into production and guest segments," James said. "To more directly answer the question, they isolate normal work network traffic from transient guest traffic."

A multifaceted approach to security is critical and often includes securing laptops with pre-boot encryption, having strong policies in place, educating internal clients on how data can be transported in and out of the company safely, and knowing how quickly IT must be notified in case of device theft.

There are a number of mobile management software solutions that can be used to manage devices that ensure security and control what apps are installed.

"The best solution will be the one that matches the business' current needs at the right budget," James said. "For some, that just need remote wipe and is not concerned with apps, that functionality is built right into many e-mail server management platforms."

Brian Molinari, national practice lead for infrastructure at IT services provider OpenSky in Tolland, says the stance that businesses take on securing personal devices is often closely linked to the type of access users have to business data.

"If companies can virtualize applications so that they are executing in the corporate data center, then the need for client security is reduced," Molinari said. "For devices like smartphones and tablets, many businesses deploy some type of mobile device management product to create a secure partition on the user's device."

Molinari says that even with a mobile device security policy in place, enforcement remains a real problem.

"Even though the technologies to provide many options for keeping data safe, there will always be gaps to address," Molinari said. "Employee awareness and training is one of the best tools to assist with security policy enforcement."

There are a few different ways to beef up the density of wireless networks.

"The approach and options will depend on the state of the current wireless infrastructure," Molinari said. "Sometimes better performance can be achieved by tweaking the way the wireless channels are broadcast to reduce co-channel interference."

While installing more wireless access points to better distribute users is an option, if existing wireless networks are already optimized, then upgrading the wireless local network to the 802.11n standard — a set of standards for implementing wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication — might be required.

John Lahtinen is a freelance writer/editor based in Farmington.