Deploying Wireless Networks and Customer Wi-Fi Gateways for Restaurants

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The first thing to consider when planning Access Point (AP) deployment for restaurants is not, as restaurant owners often think, signal coverage. It is in fact far better to estimate the number of concurrent users in any one area. One AP may well have sufficient signal strength to cover the entire restaurant area. However, if the estimated clients using that AP at any one time is expected to exceed say 30 clients, this could well result in slower speeds for all that AP's connected users. In these instances, we would suggest deploying more AP's in the area and dialling down the signal strengths. That way the physical access points can spread the load of the Wi-Fi traffic.

Careful placement of the AP's should also be considered. If possible, placing disc AP's centrally on ceilings is generally the best idea. In some instances wall mounting them can also work well. Knowing the radio profile of the AP device is a benefit so you do not waste good signal by poor placement. I often see restaurant owners wanting to put these devices inside cupboards, behind EPOS hardware or worse still in metal cabinets. This only degrades the Wi-Fi signal causing slower performance. In my personal opinion, most modern disc AP's are not that ugly especially if they are mounted well and the Ethernet cabling is hidden.

I often see Wi-Fi deployments that are handled by multiple system vendors. The EPOS guys use their AP's and the customer Wi-Fi uses another set of AP's. These devices are often placed close together. They fight each other for airtime. In such instances, it tends to work better if all Wi-Fi networks are moved on to one system. That way they can share the wireless clients and balance the bandwidth far better. Also, in small deployments, it is far better to have two AP's broadcasting both EPOS and Customer SSID's rather than one for each SSID. This gives greater redundancy. If one AP fails, both wireless networks will at least be working well in a part of the establishment.

In the past, it was difficult to offer full controller based wireless networking systems at a price that was in line with the IT deployment budgets of many bars, restaurants and coffee shops. High-end Ruckus and Cisco systems whilst excellent were simply out of kilter with modest IT budgets. Fortunately products like the Ubiquiti Unifi range have come along in the last few years. At entry level, these products offer controller based Wi-Fi networks at not much more than the cost of a several autonomous consumer based access points. I am now seeing Ubiquiti Unifi AP's in many restaurants establishments accordingly. They are certainly the most deployed Wi-Fi systems with my clients currently.

If customer Wi-Fi and secure EPOS LAN traffic are running on the same AP's it is important to separate out the traffic to different VLAN's (Virtual Local Area Networks). Most IP Credit Card service providers state that their devices must reside on networks where only known computer devices are present. This means they should not co-exist on subnets that allow customer devices onto the network. In small sites this can be handled cost effectively with a small 8 port Power over Ethernet (PoE) managed switch and some form of gateway device. The gateway device can be a simple router, a more advanced router deploying a company hotspot with splash pages and marketing links or even an online captive portal service provider like Purple Wi-Fi.

Whilst on this subject, it is important to also think about what form of Internet connectivity will be working with both the wired and wireless LAN's at your establishment. The Wi-Fi traffic can have a big impact on Internet bandwidth. See more about this in my Internet Connectivity page.

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MWDC Service Provision

"Planning, deploying and troubleshooting wireless networks is another key area of my working life. I am a certified Ubiquiti Wireless Administrator. Installing a good Wi-Fi infrastructure coupled with robust Internet connections is key to keeping the uptime of Cloud systems maximised. It is also another way of delivering excellent customer service. Enabling your customers to use their wireless devices whilst visiting your establishments is more of necessity than a luxury these days. If you need help with this in any London based sites, just pick up the phone or send me an email."