Case Study: NAFFCO gets employees online with free Wi-Fi
Firefighting services company delivers wireless connectivity for thousands with D-Link technology
After a long day at work, most of us look forward to unwinding with the gadget of our choice, scrolling through news updates, social media feeds, connecting with distant friends and relatives, et al.
For the thousands of employees at NAFFCO, lack of reliable wireless network made this a challenge.
NAFFCO is a multinational UAE-based fire safety and security firm. Its CEO, Eng Khalid Al Khatib, in his efforts to enhance employee wellbeing, initiated a project to provide free wireless in NAFFCO workers’ accommodation complex at Dubai Investment Park (DIP).
The company required an end-to-end wireless platform – switching, unified wireless products, network management software and structured cabling solutions to cover its expansive staff campus.
NAFFCO turned to D-Link to deploy a unified wireless solution for the staff campus, which consists of eleven buildings and accommodates approximately 7,500 staff.
Wasim Raza, the network & telecom engineer at NAFFCO, was the point man for the project. He said the company was motivated to relieve its workers, most of whom are blue collar workers, of the cost of internet connectivity, which can be a substantial monthly investment.
The company reached out to key wireless vendors-D-Link came out on top of a competitive bidding process and POCs.
One of D-Link’s major competitors initially invited to bid for the project came up short by failing to carry out a proper network survey. A starting point for any wireless project is to generate a heat map that identifies precisely the amount of coverage required versus what the proposed device is able to deliver.
Through a heat map, one should be able to recognise the density of user devices because each AP has a capacity of handling some certain number of connections at the same time. The heat map shifts a wireless project from the theoretical to the practical.
“For example, one access point would easily cover a radius of 30 meters. But if 200 devices are connecting to the same AP, performance will be greatly hampered; this is why an intensive survey is required. We carried out a wall penetration test to identify how well the Wi-Fi signal would pass through walls based on the requirements,” said Raza.
A major part of the architecture design was carrying out network shaping. This is the practice of regulating network data transfer to assure a certain level of performance and quality of service (QoS). This was done to make sure that each employee has access to at least 1Mbps of data at a minimum, said Raza.
The project was carried out in three phases as some of the buildings on the campus were bought in just the last two years. Collectively the whole project took about eight months, Raza explained.
This was a greenfield project, explained Raza. The project including carrying out all the cabling and the block wiring as well as design for all the IDFs (intermediate distribution frame) on each floor. Providing internet to all the rooms also meant crossing walls not only with the signal but also cutting holes through for cabling.
The WI-FI system for the campus included 900 access points – D-Link DAP-2230; 94 24 port PoE switches – D-Link DGS-1210-28P; and the network management software – Central WiFiManager software from D-Link able to manage up to 2,000 access points.
There’s now an access point every second room. Installing an AP in each room is not feasible as it causes channel interference between the frequencies and users will face connectivity hiccups when roaming the facilities, Raza explained.
Coverage extends to the common areas such as the mess halls as well as recreation areas.
“The D-Link DAP-2230 AP may appear small, but don’t be fooled. These are very powerful APs. I have tested the APs myself all over the compound and the coverage was excellent,” said Raza.
“One of the other brands we contacted has a range of APs that are a little bit more powerful but cost up to 30% extra. D-Link struck the right balance between price, reliability and performance,” said Raza.
The wireless network offers seamless roaming throughout the premises while providing a centralised management platform to ease the management chores of IT administrators.
While the amount of usage, of course, varies from one person to the other, Raza estimates each employee will on average save between 40-50 AED per month on Wi-Fi charges. Previously, one person would typically own a line and then share among six or eight colleagues. Now all employees can access high-speed internet from the comfort of their room. Workers mostly use the internet for social media, YouTube videos, or VoIP services such as BOTIM, Raza observes.
“For the employees to have such a facility free of cost from the company is a welcome initiative. The company invested a significant amount of money in the project -over 700,000 AED- to improve the wellbeing of employees,” said Raza.
Scalability was one of the considerations that Raza and his team considered before implementation.
When the project began, there were approximately 6,000 employees on the campus. This number has since risen to about 7500 workers. “The D-Link system was flexible enough to scale when the need came, and we expect it to as the company expands in the future,” said Raza.
Each building has its own software-based controller. This is monitored by the IT team through a network map that shows, in real time, which access points are live, which ones are not connecting, etc. “Thanks to accurate AP mapping, we know exactly which access point is connected where, up to the individual floor and the room. Each access point has also its own SSID and name, so it's very easy for us to track and troubleshoot,” said Raza.
NAFFCO has hired a dedicated engineer stationed in the worker's accommodation campus to resolve any issues arising with the network.
The project has no direct ROI as it was geared solely for the welfare of workers.
The project has no direct ROI as it was geared solely for the welfare of workers. “Our CEO understands that employees are the greatest asset the business has. He has put the welfare of employees at the heart of the business.
“He was personally engaged with the project, regularly following up to ensure everything ran according to plan,” said Raza.
If the goal for the project was to improve the happiness for workers, that objective has been achieved, said Raza. “Our employees are very satisfied with the project. They are experiencing first-hand the difference a reliable wireless network makes in their lives.”
The major challenge in rolling out the service lay in the physical connectivity between all the buildings via fibre cables.
Dynamic IT Solutions, the system integrators, backed by D-Link technical team had carried a prior survey to understand the requirement and possible challenges and accordingly planned, designed and executed the implementation as per the requirements.
The unified wireless network is capable of supporting a wide range of security levels. For one, the implementation included MAC technology, which deters unauthorised access by identifying all the devices connecting to the network and weeding out unregistered devices.
The D-Link through Dynamic IT Solutions offers continuous support as and when required to ensure minimum downtime. This is helped by keeping the devices proactively updated on product firmware patches and/or bug fixes. D-Link also offers service level agreements to partners and end customers, which boosts their confidence to handle support and maintenance.
The wireless project was the culmination of a massive project by NAFFCO for employees. This included the acquisition of new buildings last year and general improvement of physical facilities.