Wireless networks have become more affordable, and small businesses are joining the ever-increasing ranks of wireless converts - companies that recognize the benefits in cost savings, productivity, and happier employees. With a wireless network, you have the ability to easily reorganize your office space as your business grows, and to extend connectivity, giving your employees the added plus of easier mobility.
Your first step is to determine if wireless is right for your business. What are the possible benefits to your business and what is your anticipated return on investment? The upfront costs of wireless local area network (LAN) hardware and software can be slightly more expensive than the equivalent wired LAN equipment, but you won’t be paying for cable installation costs. There are also "soft" dollar savings that stem from enhanced productivity that comes when employees can access data quickly and easily when away from their own work areas. Depending upon the nature of your business, you will want to consider how your business processes and office productivity might improve if your employees were able to stay connected as they move around your facilities.
If wireless is the way to go, you’ll need to assess your current, and future, needs. Here are a few questions to get the process started:
- How is your current network infrastructure organized?
- How many workstations, offices, and meeting rooms are connected currently, and how many more do you plan to add?
- How many employees regularly use computers and communication systems in their day-to-day activities?
- How much of your staff conduct business away from their own desks and would benefit from mobile access to company data?
- What type of equipment do you have in use? Desktop PCs? Notebook computers? PDAs?
- Do employees who would make the most use of a wireless network already have notebooks?
There are two major costs:
- Equipment devices (notebooks, PDAs, etc);
- Access points (where the wireless LAN network is linked to the wired one) that comprise a radio transceiver, communications and encryption software plus either an Ethernet port for a cable connection to a hub or switch on the existing wired LAN.
Once you’ve tallied your employees’ equipment needs, survey your business facilities to figure out the best locations to place access points. In order to maximize the access point’s wireless range, you’ll want to select a central location in an open environment. The maximum range is about 300 feet, but that is only possible under ideal conditions. Existing walls, pipes and cables will decrease the range.
Wireless networks use special security measures to ensure that the communications transmitted are secure:
- Media access control (MAC) restricts access to the wireless access point by assigning each network card a unique hardware identification number;
- Wireless encryption scrambles data as it’s transmitted and unscrambles it on the receiving end - keeping the data safe during transmission;
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) controls are a must if you will be using public "hot spots." VPNs provide a more sophisticated and complicated encryption system than the standard encryption outlined above.
Setting up a wireless network is easier than ever before, but getting it right the first time is important. There are many consultants who can help you determine your needs and configure your new wireless network. Many suppliers also offer assistance as part of the sales and customer service efforts.