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Warehouse Wi-Fi and Internet: Everything you need to know

Connectivity in a warehouse space can be particularly difficult - but we take you through everything you need to know to pick the right solution for your business.

Traditionally, Wi-Fi inside of warehouses was for the comfort of the workers – but with the increasingly connected nature of hardware, reliable and strong Wi-Fi is now essential to the running of every modern warehouse space. Whether that is to connect large manufacturing machines, connecting bar code scanners for logistics or tracking the location of forklifts throughout a space. The birth of IoT has brought with it the knowledge that we haven’t always built warehouse spaces to be friendly to connectivity. So, what exactly is there to know when it comes to building a comprehensive and strong Wi-Fi and internet solution?

Internet speed requirements

The speed of the internet is usually what people focus on first. Everybody understands that the speed of an internet connection materially affects the usability for people on the network. Unfortunately, most people’s experience of internet speed is derived from their home internet service provider. Home environments have vastly different requirements to an industrial space. Where additional speed at home might mean less buffering, quicker page load times and faster pings, these metrics rarely transfer to industrial environments.

To understand your true speed requirements, you first need to look at the equipment you are using and what they are using the connectivity for. For example, industrial equipment is likely only using an internet connection to check for updates, verify licences or occasionally receive remote commands. None of these items have high bandwidth requirements and as such a slower but stable speed is required. You want to ensure that the small amount of data it does need is not disrupted – potentially causing delays to your workflows. On the other hand, if you are running an e-commerce business that is dispatching live orders, speed is going to be the top priority. You will want to ensure that every scanner has adequate bandwidth so that no picker is ever waiting for their equipment. You will also want to ensure that your ping (the time it takes for a request to be delivered) is low – ensuring orders are processed as fast as possible.

Upload speed is also crucial to some businesses. A traditional consumer internet service provider is likely providing an asymmetrical internet package. This means that where your download might be 100Mbp/s, your upload might only be 10Mbp/s. If you’re a business that requires two-way communication– for example a picker in a warehouse sending back data about which items have been packed, then asymmetrical internet speeds are going to significantly hamper your business. Business internet service providers can provide symmetrical internet packages meaning that you get the same amount of upload bandwidth as you do download. In some cases, this might be the only change necessary to improve your warehouse internet experience.

General speed guide:

100Mbp/s: If your business only requires basic connectivity to allow machinery or scanners to connect to the internet periodically this will easily cover the necessary bandwidth.

1Gbp/s: If you are planning to allow your employees access to the Wi-Fi, 1Gbp/s will cover their general internet usage as well as all the internet requirements of your industrial or logistics equipment.

10Gbp/s: The absolute fastest internet you could need and only applicable to the largest spaces with the highest bandwidth requirements.

Internet service provider

A big thing to consider when ordering internet connectivity for your warehouse space is who is providing the internet. Consumer internet service providers are not generally geared towards enterprise use cases – and as such whilst their pricing might be attractive, they achieve that pricing by cutting corners on several areas that are not important for consumer use cases. As detailed above, nearly all consumer internet packages are asymmetrical –meaning their upload is usually 1/10th of their download speeds. In some instances, this will not matter, but for many industrial use cases, upload can be just as important (if not more so) than download.

Consumer internet service providers also have significantly longer lead times when it comes to fixing issues. Many will have no firm commitment on downtime and even when they do their SLA times can range from days to even weeks. This could leave your business without connectivity for weeks with no way of seeking compensation apart from receiving additional service for the number of days lost. This is obviously not the case for most business internet service providers. NCG, for example, offers a 24-hour support line, with up to a 4-hour SLA time. If your business relies on reliable connectivity, consumer internet providers are not going to be able to guarantee service – and whilst you are likely to save in the short term, you will pay in the long term with downtime.  

Assessing the Wi-Fi landscape

When many people talk about internet issues, often they are not actually describing issues with their internet service provider (although they can happen as described above). With most devices now connecting to the internet over Wi-Fi, the power of, the location and distance of access points is more crucial than ever. Warehouse spaces are not built with internet connectivity in mind. In many ways they are designed in the worst possible way for clean Wi-Fi signals. Warehouses have high ceilings, are constructed mostly of metal, have large metal storage racks throughout the space and have large machinery moving throughout. Deploying a Wi-Fi solution into a warehouse space means ensuring your access points are specified for the right power, located in the right places and are not too far away from any device that needs to be connected.

Access Points

First, it’s important to pick the right access points. Consumer Wi-Fi units are often built with masonry or stud walls in mind – as Wi-Fi issues for homes mostly relate to penetration through internal walls. In a consumer environment this is great – as you will likely only have a single access point. In a warehouse environment this can be a real problem. Warehouses don’t need the Wi-Fi to reach outside of the structure – and mostly do not have any internal walls. Their size also means that you are likely going to need many different access points to create coverage over the whole space. This is where a more business-focused mesh network solution is going to come into its own. This will allow you to have a single Wi-Fi network that is centrally managed, but with many different ‘nodes’ to guarantee coverage. Some examples of enterprise solution providers include Ruckus, Cisco Meraki and Unifi. We here at NCG use Ruckus AP’s – you can find out more about our Wi-Fi solution here.

Location and Distance

The location of your access points is also hugely important. You want enough APs to cover the entire area of the warehouse with a signal –so that there are no dead zones. Too many APs and you risk them interfering with each other. Many people simply assume that the more access points, the better – but too many signals will add significant noise resulting in lower speeds and a higher number of dropped packets (lost data). Generally, areas that have significant signal dampers (shelving units, large metal objects or walls) are going to require more access points to ensure good coverage than open areas. Speed is also a big factor – so if your space does not have any high bandwidth devices, you are likely going to need fewer devices to cover the same area. There are no hard and fast rules for where you should be placing every access point, but generally a qualified installer will be able to ensure that you get adequate coverage over your space without adding unnecessary interference.  

What are your next steps?

Once you’ve established the internet speed that you need, you really have two options. You can opt to find your own ISP and then pay a Wi-Fi specialist to come in and install the required cabling, access points and any other communication equipment needed to fit out your space. Or you can find an all-in-one provider who can provide the internet service as well as the installation and warranty on the equipment. We’re probably a little biased here, but a single provider will likely net you some significant benefits. If there are internet reliability issues, you won’t have to call both the installer and the internet service provider who are likely to blame each other. You have a single point of contact for all support – and the provider is responsible for your connectivity from the exchange all the way to your device. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you with Wi-Fi and internet – have a chat with us today.

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