In retail environments, wireless networking can create a host of challenges. Global restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien faced several common challenges—and some less common ones—when updating its in-store WLANs. Ultimately, the company chose to deploy Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex access points and Ruckus Wireless ZoneDirector controllers. Le Pain Quotidien IT manager Raymond Stensholt spoke with Enterprise Networking Planet about why, what the devices have done for LPQ, and how Ruckus beat out the competition.
One of the most significant Wi-Fi access challenges LPQ faced was the challenge of access itself. The company had previously used consumer-grade wireless routers from brands like Linksys, which, Stensholt explained, only support a few connections at a time and fail or drop connections at an undesirable rate. This led to customer complaints, particularly when store managers took connection issues into their own hands, rebooting routers to solve problems and thus unceremoniously kicking paying customers off of the network. Additionally, LPQ stores had separate devices for PCI-compliant encrypted traffic from handheld payment terminals, and for corporate traffic. Their networks were cobbled together from lower-end wireless devices and lacked centralized control. As demand for better wireless access grew, LPQ realized it needed a sturdier and more easily managed solution.
As a CCNA, Stensholt was accustomed to looking to Cisco first for his IT solutions. He considered the Cisco Aironet line of APs, but “we realized we’d need a controller, and when we looked at the price, it was an economical issue.” Price aside, Stensholt also had reservations about the interface. “It wasn’t user friendly, it wasn’t so easy to set up, and WLAN setup wasn’t so easy, either,” he explained. He needed a solution simple enough for his helpdesk team to operate. Eventually, Stensholt decided on Ruckus, whose devices solved several of his key problems. Among those problems were:
- VLAN tagging: Segregating and protecting public, corporate, and payment traffic proved too cost-prohibitive with LPQ’s previous wireless infrastructure. “We had three APs at some stores. For about $150 per Linksys access point, we were already in the price range of a Ruckus device,” Stensholt said, while only being able to connect a few people at a time and without the additional benefits of centralized management or lifetime warranties. The ZoneFlex APs allow for dynamic VLAN tagging based on SSID, and “it works beautifully,” he said.
- Security: The Ruckus solution LPQ chose made several aspects of PCI compliance much easier. In addition to enabling a hidden, encrypted network for payment traffic, it allowed for much easier WPA2 encryption key changes, which the PCI-DSS mandates be changed every 90 days. “You normally have to log into 70 different routers. Now you just change it on the WLAN group, and it rolls out to the APs” through the ZoneDirector controller, Stensholt said.
- Access control: For any retailer offering public Wi-Fi to its customers, “campers”—customers who spend minimal amounts in-store but “camp” on the wireless network for hour at a time—can be a problem, as can people in neighboring buildings taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. Ruckus ZoneDirector and Map View allow Raymond and his staff to view users, MAC addresses, and connection times so that they can block unauthorized users and provide time limits for guest users. Map View also lets LPQ do things like discover coverage holes, while ZoneDirector sends alerts when problems arise, such as disconnected APs.
- Coverage: When it comes to coverage, LPQ had several more unique challenges. Many of the stores in Stensholt’s jurisdiction are in New York City, for example, an especially noisy and congested market. The Ruckus APs use band steering to direct 5 GHz-capable devices to the 5 GHz network, freeing more space on the 2.4 GHz spectrum for other users. Active channel searching and channel changes on the fly further optimize wireless connections. Additionally, Stenshold found the antenna design and signal strength of the Ruckus APs significantly stronger than his previous solution. And meshing and point-to-multipoint ensure coverage even at outdoor locations without an Ethernet connection, such as LPQ’s 9th Avenue and 14th Street kiosk in the Meatpacking District.
“The second we pull the old device out and put in a Ruckus, we get rave reviews,” Stensholt said. As of the end of 2013, LPQ had deployed Ruckus devices to 40 sites, and he said that he is under contract to buy more in Q1 and Q2 2014—devices he plans to install quickly.
“We’re going with Ruckus as our provider of Wi-Fi technologies in all our new store openings going forward,” Stensholt said.
Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Jude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.