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LANCOM Smart Controller FAQ

What is a WLAN controller?

WLAN controllers – also referred to as WLAN switches – are devices that significantly simplify the work of administrators in wireless LAN installations. New access points are configured and the security settings for a wireless LAN installation are monitored from a central location with controllers.

What advantages do WLAN controller systems offer?

  • Automatic configuration and simplified management of wireless LAN installations
  • Security settings in access points are monitored by the controller around the clock.
  • The controller features automatic RF optimization. This is particularly important in the 2.4-GHz band as there are only three non-overlapping channels. The controller assigns these optimally to the access points in the network.
  • No passwords are stored locally, meaning security is maintained in case of the theft of an access point.
  • There is no need of local IT expertise at every branch office as the WLAN installation can be managed centrally. A new access point at a branch office can simply be plugged in by non-expert personnel (zero-touch deployment). The controller recognizes the new Access Point and carries out the configuration automatically.

When should a WLAN controller be employed?

WLAN controllers represent the state of the art in technology and can be recommended for most commercially operated wireless LAN networks. In small networks where security is of top priority the controller is a worthwhile investment as it permanently monitors the security settings. A controller is of great help to any company with a central IT department as the central administration saves on travel to the various access points. For this reason in particular, large and complex networks benefit from savings in time and money due to the simple configuration of new access points and guest-access accounts. This applies in particular where the network has to offer flexibility due to the need of frequent changes.

Are WLAN controller networks more secure than conventional WLAN networks?

Security levels depend primarily on the encryption method used in the wireless LAN. Risks are presented particularly by access points that are incorrectly configured, that do not have the appropriate security settings, or by rogue access points. The WLAN controller monitors the observance of security guidelines (policy enforcement) in all of the Access Points connected to it and, in case of problems, it immediately informs the administrator.

What type of settings can be set directly from the controller?

The controller can handle the full configuration of access points. This means that the security settings can be passed on and the best available channel can be set automatically. Furthermore, the controller can distribute the latest firmware updates to the access points. Partial configurations or smaller adjustments can be conveniently organized from the controller by distributing scripts.

What system-related differences are there between WLAN controllers/WLAN switches?

With some systems, access-point data traffic is forced to travel via the central controller/WLAN switch. Considering the massive increases in WLAN bandwidth (over 100 Mbps net with 802.11n Access Points), these solutions are no longer scalable. The WLAN switch becomes a central bottle-neck. The same applies to systems that terminate their WLAN encryption in the central access point. This causes unnecessary computing power as the radio modules in the access points are equipped with their own hardware modules.

LANCOM uses a "smart controller architecture" that, in certain cases, allows data to be transmitted directly from access point to access point, without having to be directed via the controller. This prevents overloading of the controller and blockages in network traffic can be avoided.

What are the main considerations when choosing a WLAN controller solution?

Apart from for green-field installations, the most important aspect is for existing access points and routers to remain in service. The existing installation may feature various types of access-point, and/or there may be access points at remote branch offices, all of which require monitoring. All of these should be able to be controlled by the controller. In general, a system should be future-proof as a protection of investment.

For this reason the controller should, if possible, be designed to handle future requirements such as, for example, the new standard 802.11n. To avoid the controller from becoming a bottle-neck for the increasing amounts to data traffic in future, it makes sense for data to be able to "break-out" directly at the Access Point.

Does a controller work with access points from different manufacturers?

Currently no manufacturer offers controller solutions for third-party access points. The reason for this is that the interaction of access point and controller must be extremely precise for all aspects of the configuration and security to be communicated effectively. For this reason, manufacturers optimize their controller solutions for their own access points.

Is one controller enough for multiple locations with WLAN?

A single central controller can manage all of the Access Points at all sites assuming that the wireless LAN controller or WLAN switch can break-out local data and integrate remote access points. This enables employees to use their notebooks everywhere in the WLAN without having to re-configure anything. The IT administrator can be sure that the same WLAN security guidelines are active at all sites throughout the company. The only requirement is an IP connection between the sites. The incorporation of remote access points is an unlimited feature available as standard from LANCOM.

Which controllers does LANCOM currently have on offer?

The current entry-level model from LANCOM for smaller networks is the WLC-4006, capable of managing 6 or, in combination with a WLC Option, 12 access points. For medium-sized networks, LANCOM recommends the WLC-4025+. This model supports 25 access points as standard, which can be extended to 100 access points. The new model is the LANCOM WLC-4100, a model supporting up to 1000 access points or WLAN routers.

What makes smart controllers from LANCOM so special?

  • LANCOM's WLAN controllers offer the convenient plug & play installation and automatic configuration of access points in the wireless LAN.
  • LANCOM operates a "smart controller architecture", meaning that not all data has to be directed via the controller; this prevents the controller from becoming a bottle neck.
  • Even in the event that the controller should fail, the network can continue to operate as the controller optionally supports the stand-alone operation of access points.
  • Public Hot Spot function with user-friendly voucher printing
  • Works with the open standard CAPWAP
  • The "split management" feature enables the WLAN functions of integrated WLAN routers to be incorporated into central management, as well as supporting the management of access points.


What happens if a LANCOM WLAN controller fails?

If a controller fails, the wireless LAN can continue to operate as the access points optionally operate in standalone mode. Standard WLAN functions which do not necessarily have to run on the controller will continue to function without problem (e.g. SSID with WPA2, preshared key is bridged in the local network). Functions such as the authentication of clients by RADIUS/EAP via the controller, monitoring, intrusion detection, rogue Access Points detection or dynamic RF optimization are not available. Redundant systems can be set up by assigning each access point with an alternative controller in addition to its primary controller. If the main controller fails, the replacement controller can take over the monitoring functions.

Do I have to purchase a new controller if my network grows?

LANCOM offers the WLC Options to increase the number of supported access points of your controller if necessary. Thus a new controller is not absolutely necessary.