NetGain Systems, Sigma.3 tie-up boosts Wi-Fi network health

Ruckus Wireless Inc’s recent introduction of its Wi-Fi access point (AP) based on Wave 2 features of the 802.11ac standard heralds the era of multi-gigabit Wi-Fi performance and unprecedented capacity.

Riding on advances in Wi-Fi capabilities, NetGain Systems has partnered Sigma.3, an IT solutions provider that has designed, deployed and managed high-speed internet access for hotels and resorts, to monitor the health of Wi-Fi connections in more than 40 hotels in Singapore.

Specifically, they aim to maintain good wireless throughput in hotel rooms and in areas like the convention center, where a large number of users may attach to a wireless AP or where a high density of people moving about with their mobile devices creates a dynamic environment for wireless connectivity.

Wireless APs in hotels were typically placed in common areas like the lobby and along corridors. But now, “we’re moving APs into hotel rooms because that’s where the guests spend most of their time accessing the internet wirelessly,” says Eddie Tang, managing director of Sigma.3. “As bandwidth becomes more affordable and demand for bandwidth surges, the throughput for wireless has become a big key performance indicator for us to address.

Deploying APs in the corridors tends to create a hidden node issue, which leads to difficulties in media access control. In future, APs in the hotel rooms will be better placed to transmit Wi-Fi signals to wearable devices equipped with small and ultra low-powered adapters. 

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Yet, the APs in the rooms will generate interference to each other. This is where Sigma.3 leverages Ruckus patented adaptive antenna technology and best-path-selection algorithms to mitigate interference and deliver high-speed Wi-Fi.

Indeed, interference is a key challenge in managing Wi-Fi networks operating in unlicensed wireless 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands, not only from crowding of adjacent networks but also from hotspots set up on phones, as well as signal emission from devices such as microwave ovens, cordless phones and Bluetooth devices.

On the positive side, “laptops, smartphones [and other devices] equipped with sensors or cameras are no longer just consumers of information but are generating usable information,” says Toh Soon Seah, founder and CTO of NetGain Systems, whose namesake end-to-end IT infrastructure platform has been used to proactively monitor thousands of devices across complex IT environments that link network devices, servers, databases, applications, and more. “The most pervasive Internet of Things device is the mobile phone.”

Sigma.3 also manages the Wireless@SG hotspots for SingTel and the Wi-Fi hotspots for SingTel Mobile. “There are a lot of nodes that we have to monitor, including the components that power the hotspots – the switches, the ONTs, the firewalls,” says Tang. “Therefore, NetGain came into the picture not just as a vendor but as a partner. All the services that we do for the hotels and SingTel are managed services.”

Many hotspots, one dashboard

For example, managing some 300 Wireless@SG hotspots over 50 locations, Sigma.3 created a centralized operations room to handle technical calls from the hotspot venue owners. Here, NetGain’s IT monitoring solution detects and displays the hotspots on a single dashboard.

This allows Sigma.3 to diagnose issues instantly and facilitate decision-making and problem solving with a phone call or, if needed, send staff to site.

Apart from the color coding of hotspots for quick identification of issues, SMS and email alerts are issued when a hotspot performance hits critical levels. NetGain’s solution also provides early detection of denial of service attacks on hotspots. These alerts enable Sigma.3 to achieve uptime of 99%.

Since Sigma.3 needs to report the performance of hotspots every month and adhere to service level agreements enforced by the authorities, NetGain’s solution allows Sigma.3 to give up-to-date feedback to SingTel on the performance of monitored hotspots. Operations teams can download data and graphs for their reports.

“We use the graphs to better understand the performance over time, distinguishing trends from an anomaly,” Tang says. “When we identify a network issue, we have the data to back suggestions on improving the network.”

For NetGain, monitoring and predictive analysis have been extended to devices outside the data center to deliver good customer experience. “The important thing is the information collected in the time sequence and the analytics to reap intelligence out of the data,” says Toh. “Beyond monitoring signal strengths, we can gather other important statistics. For example, we can identify the number of rogue APs or clients that are using a customer’s spectrum without their control or permission.”

“Now, we can assign resources to solve the problems rather than assign resources to find the problems,” says Tang. “This increases productivity within our IT resources as they can focus more on finding new opportunities and even focus on R&D to provide new innovative solutions to our customers.”