So you’re thinking of integrating wireless into your corporate world? Before you start sticking routers in your closets and firing wireless signals into the air, do your homework and find out if it will actually be helpful to your business.
In some cases, wireless will give you a competitive
edge. In others, it will cause quality-of-service issues that just aren’t worth the hassle. Make a list of pros and cons specific to your business before you invest.
If you decide to install a wireless network, you must figure out how many access points are required to provide adequate wireless coverage. If you don’t have adequate coverage, your employees will have difficulty connecting to the Internet or, if they do connect, data speeds will be painfully slow.
If you have a small office, one access point might be enough to cover the entire area, and you could probably even get away with a solution tailored for small office home office (SOHO) users, says Philip Solis, senior analyst with ABI Research in Oyster Bay, NY. But if you have a larger space, more than one floor or a lot of walls, you’ll need multiple access points.
Do a site survey to get a “”signature”” of the area. This will help figure out how many access points you’ll need and where to place them for maximum coverage.
You also must consider capacity. If you have a lot of users in a small area like a conference room, you may need more than one access point there, particularly if you plan to do voice over Wi-Fi. An access point can generally handle between 15 to 25 calls at a time, says Solis, a number that ranges depending on the voice over IP (VoIP) protocol used.
But quality of service can still be an issue. Wireless connections just don’t offer the same kind of bandwidth that wired connections do, says Liz Clarke, president of LizWorks, a technology and business consulting company in Toronto. If you work in an industry that’s graphics-intensive or requires a lot of downloading, it’s possible that wireless might be too slow for your needs.
While wireless always offers convenience, a major downside is security. You don’t want everyone on the block using your wireless connection. This is where access control comes in. Do you want to give wireless access to all of your employees or only a select few? Do you have customers, clients or business partners who visit your office and may need Internet access?
One of the best ways to control access to your network is through a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN, which can be used inside and outside the office, allows you to send encrypted communications over a public network like the Internet.
If employees plan to take their laptops home or use them at Wi-Fi hotspots — wireless local area networks providing Internet and VPN access in public locations like coffee shops, hotels and airports — a VPN might do the trick. However, it’s up to you to provide a secure connection back to your corporate network.
If you run Microsoft XP, a VPN option is built into the operating system, says Clarke, so you don’t have to buy any additional software.
Worried about employees using handheld devices at hotspots? Generic VPN software will run on many of the newer handhelds, says Solis, but it might be more difficult if you’re using a proprietary VPN solution.
Aside from VPNs, employees can use a firewall, disable file-sharing and/or password-protect important files. But the hardest part is getting employees to actually follow these guidelines, says David Chamberlain, senior analyst with In-Stat in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Some companies have employees sign contracts, stating that their superiors have the right to view anything on their computer (for example, they can see if an employee sent any important documents over an unsecured wireless connection). So you need to decide what level of privacy (if any) your employees can expect, and make this clear from the outset.
For some SMBs, wired connections are still going to make the most sense. But if the pros outweigh the cons for your business, wireless could be just the thing you need to provide that important edge over your competition.
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