Wi-Fi affecting the industry in ways that were not initially anticipated

Some industry trends have a greater effect on the industry than experts initially predicted, while others affect the industry in ways that were not initially anticipated.

Take Wi-Fi. Five years ago, networks based on IEEE 802.11 standards were generally discussed within the context of wireless

local-area networks (WLANs). At the time, the general line of thinking was that in certain situations, it’s more practical to use 802.11 cards and install access points than to string cabling and install Ethernet ports everywhere.

But the major driving force seems to have shifted to remote access, and it’s not just a coincidence that third-generation (3G) wireless networks are not available in Canada (outside of small trials).

While companies are still using 802.11 for local-area networks, road warriors are logging on to wireless Internet service providers in public hot spots using their 802.11 cards.

Four years ago, there was a push among the wireless carriers to prepare for 3G networks, capable of providing 384 kilobits per second (Kbps) to stationary mobile phones or other devices, and 144 Kbps to customers in vehicles. The talk about 3G has been largely drowned out by the noise over Wi-Fi.

The effect on users depends where they are, and how many users are at the hotspot. The effect on network management is the fact that users will send and receive files outside the office on 802.11 networks — many of which are not secure — and submit travel expenses for charges which are IT-related. Not only could it get expensive, but as a speaker at a recent conference pointed out, Wi-Fi hot spot access fees — which should be classified as an IT cost — could be accounted for as travel expenses.

It’s not the network manager’s job to manage employee expense reports, but those responsible for IT security should be concerned if workers are uploading or downloading sensitive data in hotspots without using virtual private networks, or without using some form of WEP encryption.

The overall effect of Wi-Fi remains to be seen. If you’d like to share your thoughts, please send us an e-mail at cnedit@itbusiness.ca

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