Is a wireless network right for your business?

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Implementing a computer network is often one of a business’ most important capital additions, and often the most expensive. The improved technology of wireless networks makes them a more viable option now. Wireless networks can provide a company’s workers with increased access and flexibility, cost less, and have no higher security risk than a wired network.

How to decide if wireless is the right option for your business? Here are a few questions to consider:

1. What physical problems might you encounter? Installing a wired network can often be difficult in older buildings. Wireless networks, while easier to install, can be hampered by structural issues that cause dead spots. Before deciding, you need to have technicians look at your building, and perform radio frequency tests to determine the number and location of wireless access points.

2. How much do you want to spend? A full-office retrofit for a wireless network will initially cost more than running a few cables from an installed wired network because of the additional equipment needed. For an older building without an installed wired network, a wireless network will likely cost less to implement because it avoids complex construction issues. Over time, wireless networks often have lower capital, operational and service expenditures, and it’s also cheaper to add new users. The non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance answers questions on equipment, compatibility and standards. Go to www.wi-fi.org for more information.

3. Is mobility important to your business? Laptops with wireless capabilities can benefit your employees in the office, at home and at public hotspots by creating continual access to your network and opportunities to multitask — which can mean more productivity for you. Intel reports that it has gotten two hours extra in productivity per employee per week since it shifted most of its workforce from desktop PCs to mobile laptops and notebook computers. Intel offers a tool to analyze how a wireless system could improve your employee productivity and reduce technology costs. Go to www.intel.com/business/smallbusiness/roi.htm.

One of the biggest concerns about a wireless network is security. But the unprotected wireless world where information was easily pirated is a thing of the past, experts say. Encryption technology has evolved to the point that wireless networks are now considered as secure as hard-wired networks.

Jim Johnson, vice president of Intel’s mobility group and former general manager of Intel’s wireless networking group, says the encryption of data on a wireless network now provides robust protection.

“Wi-Fi needed to mimic the security protections of hard lines, because we couldn’t physically protect the waves like the cables hidden in the walls of a building. Engineers developed encryption mechanisms to protect the wireless waves,” says Johnson, “but now we’ve come full circle, as engineers are working to bring the same encryption protection to Ethernet lines.”

Andy Hunt, of Pro Activist Computer Support in Portland, installs both wired and wireless networks. He says it is usually the user, not the network, that allows a security breach. “I’d say that maybe 20% of the clients I encounter run wireless systems with no encryption at all, and it seems that no one updates their patches.” Hunt advises users to set up automatic updates and use strong passwords. “Digits are like the notches on a key. The more you have, the more difficult to crack.”

Another way wireless networks can provide more data security is through private access networks and local access networks. These networks can limit access and segregate users.

So is wireless right for you? Your office infrastructure and user needs will dictate what type of network to install, but the evolving capabilities of wireless technology make it a smart choice to consider.

— Robert H. Hamrick


RESOURCES:

www.wi-fiplanet.com offers a guide to wireless technology, including news, features, product reviews and tutorials.

www.wifinerd.com provides links to wireless news, resources, vendors and tools.


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