Home & Office

Are you ready for wireless?

If you're looking to get on the bandwagon, we tell you what to look out for.
Written by Lonnie McAlister, Contributor

Scarcely a day goes by when we don't hear some news about wireless networking. If you're looking to get on the bandwagon, we tell you what to look out for.

Networking and the Internet have transformed our businesses today. Yet new trends are emerging that will spell even greater possibilities for companies eyeing that competitive edge. Wireless local area networks (wireless LANs) is one such technology, and presents an opportunity for large enterprises as well as small and medium-size businesses (SMBs).

If you are an SMB head, your question may be: Is wireless LAN what I need? So the first thing you should do is assess your firm's need for a wireless LAN.

There are certainly many advantages to deploying wireless networking. It gives employees mobile access to information quickly and fairly securely anywhere in the enterprise, enabling faster decision-making and increased productivity. It transforms the workday by giving employees new ways to stay productive and efficient, both in and out of the office.

... it is essential for businesses to run a simple user segmentation model to evaluate the merits of owning a wireless LAN.

But even with all these inherent advantages, it is essential for businesses to run a simple user segmentation model to evaluate the merits of owning a wireless LAN.

If your employees are "road warriors" who travel a lot, they may benefit more from notebooks on wireless LAN.

On the other hand, if you house "campus workers" who spend most of their time in the offices, wireless LAN may still serve you well. Consider whether employees need to move around the office, collaborate with colleagues on their notebooks during meetings, or whether laying a wired network for your site is expensive and complicated.

While effectiveness indicators such as total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI) may seem hard to measure at times, they are key to successful system deployment.

Components of a wireless LAN
Wireless LANs can be used within a single building or an office as an extension to a wired LAN. Typical wireless LANs for SMBs are primarily made up of two components: wireless network cards and wireless access points.

An access point is a hub that gives wireless computing devices the ability to connect to the wired LAN backbone. Multiple access points in a given area can be installed in a cell structure, which is similar to how mobile phone providers maintain coverage area.

With an access point in range, wireless network cards can then be used to link up computing devices such as notebooks and PDAs. Wireless LAN

Wireless LAN deployment considerations
Whether deploying a wireless LAN to a small area or implementing it across a larger space, every deployment has its considerations. The following is a useful checklist for SMBs to efficiently deploy wireless LANs quickly.

1. Wireless LAN coverage
Wireless LAN utilizes non-overlapping radio-frequency channels, supporting a clean, interference-free signal for computing systems and mobile devices. Increasing the number of non-overlapping channels increases performance capacities. For example, the IEEE 802.11b standard has three non-overlapping channels and provides ample support for users requiring Internet and e-mail functionality.

2. Access point capacity
Bandwidth is shared among users on a wireless LAN, so the number of simultaneous users that an access point can support depends mostly on the amount of data traffic. For example, for 802.11b, each hardware access point has up to 11Mbps throughput. This capacity is adequate for:

  • 50 nominal users who are mostly idle and check the occasional text-based e-mail;
  • 25 mainstream users who use a lot of e-mail and download or upload moderately sized files; or
  • 10 to 20 power users who are constantly on the network and deal with large files.

To increase capacity, more access points can be added, which gives users greater opportunity to enter a network. Networks are optimized when the access points are set to different channels. For instance, a company may place three 802.11b access points in three adjacent offices, with each unit set to a different channel.

In theory, many users can then share up to 33Mbps total capacity (although no single user would ever have throughput faster than 11Mbps). In reality, clients associate with the access point with which they share the strongest signal, so the bandwidth may not be dispersed evenly among users. Access points placed strategically throughout the network environment should be managed from a central, remote location.

3. Interoperability
Interoperability between wireless LAN systems is complex because there are different technologies and manufacturers. The Wi-Fi Alliance offers a "Wi-Fi certified" logo on products that have been successfully tested as interoperable, regardless of the vendor. If you select products that do not meet these standards and certification benchmarks, future interoperability is not assured and there is a risk of compatibility issues and unexpected costs.

4. Relative attenuation of radio frequency
While installing a wireless LAN, enterprises need to consider that obstructions in the signal path can affect the ability of radio waves to transmit and receive information, as well as the speed of transmission. For example, wood or synthetic materials, commonly found in office partitions or doors, can reduce radio wave speed and transmission, but to a much smaller degree than an inner wall or floor made of brick or marble. Solid materials such as concrete and metal have high and very high degrees of attenuation--or loss of signal strength--respectively and aversely affect transmission.

Mobile computing and wireless technologies are bringing substantial increases in worker productivity. When planning system upgrades, wireless mobile computers and networks deserve a prominent role. It is impacting all aspects of business life by enabling better data access and management, productivity increases and TCO savings. Organizations that strategically embrace innovations in wireless networking will reap competitive rewards.

Lonnie McAlister is a product manager for the Wireless Networking Group at Intel Asia Pacific.

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