Law firm to judge impact of Wi-Fi implementation

It probably won’t cut it as a plot line for a David E. Kelley legal drama, but wireless technology might become a hit at a Toronto law firm.

McMillan Binch LLP is running a 802.11b pilot project to determine the feasibility

of migrating approximately 150 lawyers off desktops. The Wi-Fi standard delivers about 11 Mbps, more than enough bandwidth according to George Atis, a partner and chair of the firm’s technology and new media practice group.

“”Part of our pilot program is to see if there’s any degradation with some of the apps we use,”” Atis says, adding that none has been detected in the two-and-a-half weeks the project’s been running.

Network access is being provided through 11 access points placed in the ducts on McMillan’s five floors of office space in a tower in downtown Toronto. Atis says there is only one spot where a signal is unavailable: the corporate records room. The room is filled with large metal towers and thick minute books, he says, but the 12 testers can manage to get a signal in the elevator.

“”We decided that we were going to go with a small group of people that we know are heavy technology users to begin with, because we want feedback,”” he says. “”We want feedback from, ‘I was sitting in a meeting and the network dropped off for a second and I lost this,’ or ‘When I open our contact information system I notice a lag.’ And it’s only people who use these applications often that we want feedback from and that’ll give us a basis on how we roll it out firm-wide.””

The project was developed over the course of about eight months with the help of GE Capital IT Solutions, which drew up a design. Once a design had been settled on it took about a week to get the hardware and software from Cisco and another three days to install it.

The project would have never gotten off the ground, however, if security fears couldn’t be quelled. Atis says 60 Minutes features on war driving and the White House cyber-security advisor Richard Clarke recommending all wireless networks be shut down didn’t help the cause. Eventually the powers that be were convinced a the layering security approach makes it just as secure as a hardwired LAN.

Yankee Group Canada anaylst mark Quigley says it is impossible for an Internet enabled-WAN to be as secure as a LAN for one simple reason: the only way to get access is through the physical infrastructure.

“”With wireless, stuff floats around in the ether, and there have been instances where companies have deployed an 802.11 solution and haven’t, for example, turned security functionalities on,”” Quigley says.

Should the project go well, Atis says it won’t be a problem to add users to the network, as the 11 access points can support the rest of the office. Should bandwidth become a problem, he says the nodes can be upgraded to 802.11A and 55mbps.

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