The increasing number of devices on your church’s network can put a strain not only on your bandwidth but on you as a tech. While connected devices have made things easier within the church, they have also created a new set of headaches. Ensuring that your network can handle the devices and traffic being thrown at it is a new task for church technical directors. Taking a few steps now can ensure that things will run smoothly in the future.

The number of devices on your network is growing, and you probably don’t even know it. That great new digital audio console, a network projector, digital signage machine, Chromecast, and giving kiosk–they’re all taking up space and using up your bandwidth. It’s critical you get a handle on not only current equipment that requires connectivity, but on future equiment you plan to add that will take up precious network bandwidth. This identification is essential in developing an efficient network topology.

Listing what is on your network (and what is to come) will allow you to break it out into smaller network segments.

Devices

Here are some logical ways to group the devices on your network:

  • Guests (always separate guest traffic)
  • Staff
  • Audio
  • Streaming/Video
  • Appliances (kiosks, thermostats, etc)

This doesn’t mean you have to separate all of these types of traffic, just know what you have and the frequency of usage.

Knowing how all of your devices are connected is the next step in giving yourself a more robust network.

Wi-Fi

If you’re primarily using Wi-Fi throughout your building, there are three things to keep in mind:

  • Distance between device and the wireless access point
  • Number of devices connected to a single access point
  • The usage of the devices on an access point

Having 20 devices connected to an access point that are all checking email isn’t nearly the same as 20 devices all trying to stream video. Using actual business-class access points that have Multiple-In Multiple-Out (MIMO) antennas will allow for the greatest bandwidth and most significant coverage in your building. You also may need more than one access point. Depending on layout and construction materials you may need an access point for every 1,500-3,500 square feet. That is just considering the area it can cover. You might need more in a sanctuary if you have guest Wi-Fi.

Wireless technologies are fantastic, but keep in mind that there are environmental factors that can cause issues as well. With that being said, having a hard-wired connection is always preferred. Using a Category 6 or 6a (CAT6/6a) cable will ensure that your network can grow and accommodate the bandwidth you’ll need in the future. Using this, in combination with Gigabit (1000mb) speed network switches means that transferring data between computers will always be fast.

VLANs and QOS

Two of the most import aspects of a robust network for your church are VLANs and QOS.

A VLAN is a virtual network on physical cables. This article from Lifewire gives an excellent description. VLANs not only allow for more efficient flow of network traffic, they also provide an additional layer of security. Protecting your data is critical in your church. Also, make sure you’re following these three ways to keep your digital community safe. If you have guest Wi-Fi, you need a minimum of two VLANs. The list you created of your devices and their groupings can now get implemented as VLANs.

Quality Of Service (QOS) is the ability to limit the bandwidth a device (or VLAN) can use at any given moment. All guest traffic should have the bandwidth limited. People will attempt to live stream your service from your sanctuary. Guest traffic should be limited to 1% or less, per person of your total bandwidth. Consider actually turning off guest Wi-Fi during services to ensure you have the bandwidth you need. If you’re setting up multiple VLAN’s also consider scaling back some of them that don’t have high bandwidth usage. Your giving kiosk will still be fast with only a 5mb maximum download speed.

At the end of the day…

When it comes to your church’s network, it is important to think like a business. As your church grows and expands, make sure to purchase business-class equipment. The features and functionality that these allow far surpass any home network equipment. Features such as VLANs and QOS will save your sanity and keep the church operating smoothly.