What’s Apple ever done for networking?

IT leaders are facing a perfect storm as everyone ramps up the return to office work. Over the last two years, people have grown accustomed to Zoom, Teams and other unified communications services to host meetings.

And this is set to continue despite the fact that more staff are heading to the office. In fact, new research from CCS Insight shows that the take-up of online meetings has driven down usage of desk phones.

Office space is often setup with fast, wired Ethernet for IP telephony. Enterprise routers are configured to give high priority to voice calls, to ensure the telephony infrastructure is able to deliver as high a quality of service (QoS) as possible.

Yet, over the last two years or so, people have used Wi-Fi on their home networks to participate or host online video conferencing meetings. However, the quality of audio and video streaming over a home Wi-Fi network is highly suspect. During the Covid-19 crisis, poor quality of service and dropped comms links  became part of the rigmarole of online meetings.

And it is the same in the office, warns Dan Jones, a wireless engineer at Natilik and host of the Wireless Pubcast. There are two fundamental  problems. First, wireless chipsets used in laptops and mobile devices are all optimised differently. Second, an office wireless access point may also be incorrectly configured to maximise range. This leads to devices constantly switching between access points based on some unknown rule within the firmware of the device’s wireless chipset.

Documented Wi-Fi optimisation

For Jones, it is better to configure the office network with low-powered wireless access points and ensure devices are configured for this  With Mac hardware, Apple  documents how the wireless chipsets in their devices are optimised. But, PC manufacturers generally do not make such information readily available.

Wi-Fi networks are also shared resources.  This poses further issues for real time communications apps. Just as in the home, every device tries its uttermost to grab a share of the same bandwidth.This can result in  dropped frames in video conference call and out of sync or stuttering audio.

Again, Apple has an answer. Possibly due to its own business requirements to ensure point of sales devices in Apple Stores can retain connectivity, Apple has worked with Cisco on QoS Fast Lane. The collaboration means that iOS and MacOS devices can be configured on a Cisco network, in a way that ensures applications that require the bandwidth can do so, without the problems of network contention.

All enterprise devices need this. PC and network equipment providers  must work together to ensure corporate users have the best possible Wi-Fi experience to meet the network requirements of unified communication apps.

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