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Divorce Your PC: Embrace a Wireless Networking Plan.

Innovative businesses employ Wi-Fi technology routinely in operations as wide ranging as sales, warehousing and inventory management, manufacturing and intra-office collaboration.

Computers empower today’s employees to do things that no individual could have accomplished just one generation ago, but with continuing momentum behind the mobile workforce, desktop technology tends to chain workers to their desks. Businesses are discovering that providing employees with mobile computing power increases the value and productivity of information technology and the employees themselves. According to an article in Industry Week, businesses can improve profitability by 1 to 4 percent through increased mobility.

Innovative businesses employ Wi-Fi technology routinely in operations as wide ranging as sales, warehousing and inventory management, manufacturing and intra-office collaboration. Workers can access their network during meetings away from their desks – viewing data, taking notes, sending e-mails and doing research right on the spot. Implementing a wireless network can help an organization save money, increase productivity and make information easier to utilize.

Start with the Access Points

When planning a wireless local area network (WLAN) for your business, the right access points can make or break the network’s usability:

  • The latest: The newest wireless standard in access points – 802.11n – allows users to get up to 300mbps throughput compared to 802.11a and 802.11g, which both deliver only 54mbps. While 802.11n is still technically in draft status, it is slated to be ratified in September 2009. However, many enterprise wireless networks have already adopted the draft 2.0 standard as final. Additionally, many customers are confident that the final version will not change from the draft version, so have already purchased 802.11n equipment
  • The essentials: Though 802.11n is still a draft, customers do not need to be concerned about the compatibility of gear across different manufactures, or worry about IEEE standards. However, in order to get the full benefit of 802.11n, we recommend using dual band access points, which operate on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency. Over the past year, many low-cost 802.11n single band access points entered the market, and if an access point operates only at 2.4 GHz, it may not work as well as needed and may even interfere with other nearby wireless networks
  • Above and beyond: The three major new features that make 802.11n better than all of the previous standards are:
  • Multiple In, Multiple Out (MIMO) signal processing. MIMO uses multiple antennas, giving the access point greater sensitivity and creating greater range with higher data rates
  • Spatial multiplexing: This splits the data stream and sends it over different antennas transmitting on the same channel. Then it is re-combined on the receiving end, yielding higher data rates
  • Channel bonding: This combines two 20 MHz channels to form one 40 MHz channel. Effectively, this provides twice the throughput. However, channel bonding is only recommended for 5 GHz 802.11n operations

On to the Rest

There are a few pitfalls that organizations should watch out for. Here are several tips for avoiding wireless blunders:

  • Wireless devices that are designed for use in homes are not a fit in the business environment. Organizations with multiple access points need appropriately designed devices to achieve a seamless connection. Although home access points are less expensive, they are not designed to achieve the results necessary in the commercial arena, as they are made specifically for single deployments and can actually interfere with each other when used simultaneously
  • Figure out the best locations for the access points – not just the easiest. You can approach this challenge several ways:
  • One option is to conduct a comprehensive wireless site survey, but that can be highly technical and costly
  • Another option is to simply set up multiple access points and err on the side of over-coverage. The initial investment in multiple access points will save you money in the long run, compared to commissioning a site survey
  • Alternatively, a small shop can perform a rudimentary site survey on its own by simply setting up one access point, charting its coverage using one laptop, and using its coverage range as a guideline for access points throughout the facility
  • This problem is yet another reason to employ a wireless LAN controller. The controller will recognize all of the connected access points and set the appropriate channel and power setting. Some controllers even allow users to load a diagram of the floor plan, providing a heat map that shows the signal strength of each access point
  • Don’t become complacent in old wireless routines. Network equipment continually improves, with networked devices becoming smarter and more complex – just like the technologies that hackers use to attack networks. Organizations need to know exactly where the wireless marketplace stands and where the technology is headed. Failure to do so will expose users to security risks and potentially waste time and money
  • Watch out for do-it-yourself wireless networks. Consumer-grade wireless access points are so affordable that, if an organization neglects to implement a wireless network, it is very possible that some employees will build their own. Without adequate security protection, “rogue” wireless networks can create holes of vulnerability in the wired IT network. A centrally managed wireless network, however, will detect rogue access points within its bounds and disable them.

As technologies evolve, organizations must also evolve, which is why it is important now more than ever to make the wireless leap if your organization hasn’t already done so. When switching to wireless, be careful to consider your objectives, your limitations and the possible future benefits. Also, be aware of the possible pitfalls so you can avoid disappointments and lost time in the future. Developing the right wireless plan for your unique situation will translate into budget savings and productivity increases.

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