Moving from a consumer-grade router to a business device can improve security, performance and more.
Many small businesses start off with consumer-grade Wi-Fi routers at the heart of their networks. But there comes a time when an upgrade is called for.
One of the problems with consumer routers is that vendors aren't especially good at offering firmware updates to address security issues. Come to that, most owners aren't very good at checking to see if updates are available.
If your router is more than a couple of years old, it's quite possible that updates are no longer provided. Given that some serious security issues affecting routers have been discovered over the last year or so, that's not an ideal situation. So investigate whether your router's firmware is still being updated and that yours is running current firmware.
Exactly how you do that varies between manufacturers and even models, so the best we can do is refer you to your router's documentation.
Even if everything is OK on that front, security considerations may still be relevant.
WatchGuard ANZ regional director David Higgins understandably suggests security as a primary reason for switching to business-grade hardware.
If your business relies on computers and other devices, a consumer-grade router isn't going to provide the protection you need, he says.
Equipment such as the WatchGuard Firebox family can help protect against malware, provide control over material accessed via your network (you probably don't want customers or employees hogging the available bandwidth by torrenting, or using your connection to access unsavoury or illegal sites), and stop man-in-the-middle attacks.
WatchGuard’s approach is to put multiple security services in one right-sized device and all under one licence for “a nice neat solution,” Higgins says.
Even the smallest model provides a throughput of 90Mbps with all services active, he observes.
It makes it easy to set up a guest network for customer use (with features such as logging in via Facebook), and can prioritise traffic (so your cloud-based POS system gets priority over customers’ browsing, for example).
Another reason for considering a network upgrade is performance, especially as user numbers grow.
Netgear ANZ vice president and managing director Brad Little suggests a good Wi-Fi network is now an absolute necessity, and it needs to be capable of supporting not just company-owned devices but also those that employees and customers bring with them.
The most obvious sign that an upgrade is required is that employees and customers are complaining about network performance, says Higgins, though the most likely reason is the internet connection itself: 12/1Mbps “is hardly business grade throughput,” he suggests.
Given adequate internet bandwidth, a Wi-Fi router should be capable of supporting between 20 and 40 users, he says. So you can either limit the number of users to ensure that everyone connected does get decent performance, or use multiple access points to provide better coverage. (Wi-Fi extenders are not the way to go, he warns.)
“Consumer Wi-Fi is about convenience for homes and small offices,” Higgins says. But “businesses almost have to go for business-grade protection” in the light of recent malware attacks. “It's a real problem” because businesses have become so dependent on online capabilities.
“Consumer-grade [equipment] doesn't cut it from security or performance aspects.”
Netgear's range of wireless access points and switches can cater for all businesses big and small, says Little, providing business-class speed and range, simple installation and maintenance, as well as the flexibility needed by growing small businesses.
“Once a small business operation reaches a scale of more than 20 staff, the business owner needs to seek a wireless solution that offers more robust security, further reliability and performance. At this point, the business should consider a more serious level of technology, which includes a network management solution that better controls the proliferation in devices connecting to the network,” Little says.
The issues to take into account include the bandwidth required, for instance to cope with the transfer of very large files such as 4K and HD videos, big PowerPoint decks and major software updates, suggests Little. 802.11ac routers or access points can help handle such situations.
Quality of service
Another is the growing routine use of video conferencing and video streaming over Wi-Fi, which calls for the ability to appropriately prioritise different types of data.
And once you move into the realm of multiple access points, centralised management becomes an important consideration, he added.
“A key consideration is to choose a network that will allow you to scale easily, so that an upgrade isn’t only going to see you through the next couple of years, but also to continue to support the business as its needs change,” says Mark Verbloot, South Pacific systems engineering director at business networking provider Aruba.
“Business-grade networks will also provide SMBs with an enterprise-like network, without the associated cost. By implementing a business-grade network, SMBs will be able to increase bandwidth, the number of devices connecting to the network and be able to increase productivity within the team, leading to greater business results.”
It's also worth considering whether you need a router that can automatically fail over to a 4G connection in the event of a fixed line outage, says Little. And if continued connectivity is that important, keeping a backup access point or router on hand could be a wise precaution.
Don't wait until something goes wrong or people start complaining about slow connections: the network and its capabilities should be reviewed every year even when things are working well, he recommends.