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Cisco Wireless Controllers: What Is a WLAN Controller?

Oct, 30, 2023

A WLAN is a wireless architecture that aims to meet changing network demands. A WLAN controller manages wireless network access points that allow wireless devices to connect to the network.

What a wireless access point does for your network is similar to what an amplifier does for your home stereo. It takes the bandwidth coming from a router and stretches it so that many devices can go on the network from farther distances away.

Does the size of a controller matter?

Simply put: yes. It's important to choose the right type of deployment and to make sure your controller matches the size of your organization.

Usually your choice of controller will depend on the number of devices that typically attach to a wireless network. A large office building that has hundreds of workers has different needs than a small business.

Some controllers, such as the Catalyst 9800-80 Wireless Controller, are built to handle the traffic of a large organization. That same controller would be overkill for a small business. Similarly, a controller like the Cisco 3504 Wireless Controller is intended for smaller business offices and manages a few access points--it would never be able to handle the day-to-day activity of a large enterprise.

Does my organization need a WLAN controller?

Not necessarily. If your business is a small to medium-sized, if you don't have a highly skilled IT manager, or if you are on a budget, Cisco Mobility Express may be the answer.

Mobility Express, unlike a typical network, is a controllerless device. What this means is that a WLAN controller is embedded in the access point. You are able to manage the entire Wi-Fi network through an access point.

Mobility Express is easy to manage but also easy to deploy on your wireless network, including guest access. It takes under 10 minutes to deploy.

How do WLAN controllers fit into intent-based network?

Cisco's wireless controllers are a key component of intent-based networking. This means that with an intent-based network from Cisco, your network grows more intuitive every day, because it is informed by context and powered by design.

Can you list other wireless controller deployment options?

In addition to managing access points, a WLAN controller is integral when it comes to the type of network deployment you choose. There are two deployments that use physical controllers:

- Centralized deployment. The most common type of wireless network system, traditionally deployed in campuses where buildings and networks are in close proximity. This deployment consolidates the wireless network, allowing for easier upgrades and enabling advanced wireless functionality. Controllers are based on-premises and are installed in a centralized location.

- Distributed deployment. This solution is tailored for small campuses or branch offices. It allows customers consistency in their wireless and wired connections. This deployment converges wired and wireless on one network device--an access switch--and performs the dual role of both switch and wireless controller.

Product List: Cisco Wireless Controllers

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