Beltug

The Wondrous World of WiFi: With user stories from VDAB, SWIFT & DP World. Takeaways from the Beltug X-change of 7 November 2017


Date:07/11/2017


Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous - in offices, homes and public locations. Today, we probably notice more when Wi-Fi ISN’T available, than when it IS! But that doesn’t mean everything is crystal-clear.

 

In this session, we took a look at questions that still arise when setting up a solid Wi-Fi network: security, free access, access points, etc. We explored some often-unexploited opportunities, and heard real-life stories and insights from VDAB, SWIFT and DP World. Presentations from the event are available, exclusively for Beltug members (after login):

(The slides from the SWIFT presentation were not available to publish)

 

Pascal Claessens, Service Manager Netwerk en telefonie at VDAB, started us off by explaining the role of Wi-Fi in fulfilling the duties of this governmental employment organisation. Wi-Fi is a key tool for every VDAB stakeholder: consultants, management, visitors, trainees, etc.  Slide 10 gives an overview of the Wi-Fi architecture.

 

For the different types of users, there are various access rules. To give a few examples:

  • For visitors, there is limited bandwidth and no support is available.
  • For VDAB employees, 2 Wi-Fi networks are available - one for VDAB devices, one for 'BYOD’ devices.
  • The rules for trainees are similar to those for employees.

 

Trainees often bring their own devices, and there is a challenge in enabling them to register these devices in the VDAB network. For example, not everyone has a mobile number: perhaps they handle their communication through a data subscription.  Facebook profiles could also be used to register, yet not everyone has one.

 

There are further challenges relating to VDAB's training partners. Different partners need different types of access to the VDAB network - some partners are limited to the data for a specific training, while others need access to parts of the VDAB job seekers database.

 

Pascal concluded his overview with an overview of the Wi-Fi challenges, on slide 17.

 

Next up, we had two speakers from SWIFT: Bjorn Dewael, Associate Project Manager, and Berengere Mol, Network Consultant. They gave an overview of how Wi-Fi technology evolved within this secure financial messaging services company.  They observed that Wi-Fi has advanced from being a secondary network to the primary one. SWIFT's 'flex desk' project also impacted the work of the network engineer. With the many standards and bandwidths used, Wi-Fi at SWIFT is seen as the job of a true specialist.

 

Berengere went over the technical homework SWIFT carried out before diving into the project: the scope, coverage within the building, execution, etc.

 

Based on their current experience, the future holds many new opportunities that can be supported by a solid Wi-Fi network: SWIFT is considering options such as an 'all wireless' office, video streaming, location-based applications, etc. After giving an overview of the solid security measures (e.g. no open SSIDs, everyone needs to register or authenticate, etc.), Berengere's final message was: make sure to work with a solid partner when considering a setup or renewal of your Wi-Fi network.

 

Finally, Patrick Putman, Chief Information & Innovation Officer at DP World Antwerp, gave impressive insight into the Antwerp container terminal, which is highly automated and therefore highly dependent on ICT and wireless connectivity. Container environments are very dynamic: containers move around all the time (unlike a more static office or warehouse environment, in which repeaters or amplifiers can be installed).

 

In 2009, Wi-Fi was installed, as it was the only wireless option, but there were many downsides and challenges.  Distances in the terminal are long, and there is very little to connect to.  In 2016, DP World Antwerp began replacing this existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, first spending a year looking into numerous options. Each had its advantages and downsides –  expensive, old technology, not easily available, etc. Slides 23 and 24 show the alternatives investigated.

 

The company went with 'InstaMesh', which is based on the 'no-handover' paradigm. While the first test of the solution failed completely, many lessons were learned – especially that InstaMesh doesn't operate as a traditional Wi-Fi network, but is a wireless backbone.  See slide 29 for more lessons.

 

Patrick ended his overview with some key lessons from this Wi-Fi project: don't overpromise when launching new technology, introduce it at the right pace, and make a proper business case (see slide 32 for more details).

 

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