Wireless Networking

Why does my business need wireless?

There are two main benefits to wireless networking: portability and flexibility. If you use a notebook with a wireless connection, then you can access your network from anywhere in your office. If you travel regularly, you'll be able to access the Internet wherever there's a wireless hotspot (this includes many cafes, convention centres, airport lounges and other locations). If your company network is set up to allow virtual private network (VPN) connections, you'll be able to access it from any Internet-connected hotspot (though this requires some configuration). Being able to easily relocate desktop PCs is a strong reason to go wireless. If, for instance, your company premises expands, a wireless network will allow you to move your PCs without the time and expense of having new network cabling installed.

What else can I do with wireless?

There are also some multimedia devices that support wireless networking, including digital cameras and hardware media players. These can be used to transfer video and audio files to and from a network for purposes ranging from security and surveillance to multi-room entertainment.

Are there any disadvantages to wireless networking?

While there are many benefits to wireless networking, there are also some disadvantages. These fall into three categories: speed, cost and security.

Speeds for wireless networking depend on which standards you use, but are usually lower and more variable than speeds on conventional network connections. Modern networking gear allows speeds of up to 100Mbs, and even older networks will achieve 10Mbs. With the exception of new systems, most wireless networks will be lucky to achieve even 10Mbs; their performance often varies according to the layout of the office.

For most businesses, 10Mbs is more than adequate. If, however, you often need to send large files -- common in the graphic arts and architectural industries -- then a wired connection may be more practical.

Cost is another reason why wireless may not suit your needs. While prices have dived noticeably over the past two years, wireless networking gear remains expensive. For instance: while you can buy a conventional Ethernet network card for less than $20, a similar wireless card is likely to cost up to three to four times that amount at least. While you will save money on cabling with wireless, that won't make up the cost difference.

Wireless networks also give rise to their own security concerns, since poorly secured networks can be pried open by hackers. We will discuss how to protect against these threats later.

What will happen to my existing network if I go wireless?

If you've no problems with your existing network, there's no need to abandon it because you want to give some users wireless access. Since all the basic network transports are identical -- only the medium used to move data is different -- wired and wireless users can happily co-exist. Indeed, a notebook user may choose a wired connection when at their desk, to utilise faster speeds, but opt for the portability of wireless during meetings.

The likely scenario for a completely wireless operation is if you're setting up a new company or moving to a new site. In other situations, running both in tandem will probably make more sense -- at least until your existing network hardware gives out.

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