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Read before you buy that wireless networking gear.

What considerations should consumers and small business owners make when choosing a wireless router? According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive Technology Research, here’s what you should consider:

* Signal reliability over long distances

For the small business owner, maintaining a reliable connection over a great distance is an important feature to look for in wireless equipment. Many small business owners choose wireless networking because they want the freedom to roam inside or outside of their offices with their lap tops. Home users need expansive wireless coverage too. According to an article published in the New York Times Ideas and Trends section, the size of the average American home is 50 percent larger than it was in 1970. Whether it’s a concrete office building, spacious suburban home, or back yard, people want the freedom to roam with their computers.

New technology developed by ParkerVision Inc., a Florida based wireless equipment manufacturer, enables wireless equipment to deliver reliable service over long distances – up to one mile. A leading enterprise brand delivers a range of up to only 1500 feet. In addition, ParkerVision’s technology delivers high performance with minimal power consumption, a strong selling point for the energy conscious consumer or small business owner.

* Bandwidth

Another key consideration when choosing a wireless router is speed. Most experts and experienced users recommend choosing a wireless router with an IEEE rating of 802.11b or higher.

* Security

When cordless phones became popular a number of years ago, there was concern that it would be easy to eavesdrop on a conversation because cordless phones transmit using radio waves, which can be intercepted. The same holds true for wireless computer networks. Wireless routers transmit data using radio waves, so they are more vulnerable than wired networks.

For this reason, it is important to choose a wireless router that is equipped with a robust encryption system. Without protecting your network, anyone within range of your router can use your network to go online or even hack into your computer.

* Ease of setup

Setting up a wireless router can be complicated, even for an experienced user. The documentation that comes with the equipment should be easy to understand, and the instructions for set up should be clear and easy to follow. The equipment manufacturer should have an accessible and responsive support center for help and troubleshooting. Most wireless equipment manufactures have toll free technical as well as online support centers for help and troubleshooting.

* Cost

While it is impossible to put a price tag on the freedom and flexibility that wireless provides, cost is a consideration for small businesses and consumers alike. The individual pieces of equipment required to install a wireless network in a home or small office environment is generally more expensive than the equipment needed for a wired network, but the ROI may be greater when you consider the benefits of wireless computing. In addition, depending upon the type of wireless equipment you choose, you may actually need to purchase less equipment for wireless than for a similar wired network.

According to mobileinfo.com, the law school at Hofstra University spent $50,000 for 120 wired Ethernet ports; three years later, the school installed 30 wireless access points for $12,000. 30 wireless access points gave the students the same coverage as did the original wired installation–a $38,000 budget reduction for the same level of coverage!

New wireless technology has a cost savings advantage over traditional wireless equipment as well as wired Ethernet systems. With traditional wireless routers, the signal degrades as you get further away from the original access point. Maintaining a consistent connection within a large home or office building may require the addition of strategically placed signal boosters throughout the desired coverage area. Depending on how many amplifiers are needed, this can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of installing a wireless network.

Equipment utilizing the latest wireless technology will sustain a reliable connection from a single access point without costly additional equipment.

Jerry Schranz is an account executive with Keating & Co. of Florham Park, N.J.

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