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Is Wireless Right for Your Office?

A traditional Local Area Network (LAN) uses cables or wires to share your office resources like; software programs, files, printers, scanners, etc.

A Wireless LAN (WLAN), also called "Wi-Fi" (Wireless Fidelity) service, is much the same. However, rather then sharing information and equipment via cables or wires, a WLAN does its job by using radio waves. Thus, allowing you to connect within your office without the cables or wires. The radio waves pass through ceilings and cement walls to make your WLAN connection.

The same principle works when you are out of your office and using your laptop as well. You may still access to your office wired LAN or wireless WLAN, then access your files or printer that are physically located within your office on your desk! A great productivity gain for the growing number of mobile workers.

But this WLAN technology isn't just for desk bound office workers. Offices with constantly roving employees stand to gain the most from cutting the cord of traditional wired networks. The power of the Internet is finally coming to places such as hospitals, retail stores and outdoor areas.

The Medical community is using wireless to ease the mounds of medical paperwork involved in keeping patient records, requesting insurance payments and writing prescriptions.

In traditional doctors' offices, a receptionist takes insurance information, a nurse asks the patient to fill out a questionnaire for symptoms and medical conditions, and the doctor completes a more thorough examination. All this information is taken down on paper, which is then filed away.

Now doctors and nurses may carry around a touch-screen computers, adding bits and pieces of information to each patient's record as they go from room to room speaking with different patients.

The system automatically backs up the information to off-site servers over the Internet, and if the patient needs a prescription or referral, the system generates one based on information already entered and transmits it electronically to a local drugstore.

Computer-to-computer communication is becoming a more common use of the technology. Some gas stations are employing the technology to automatically keep track of fuel supplies and transmit that information back to the home office. While many banks are hooking up automated teller machines wirelessly to save money on traditional wiring.

Soda machine vendors are setting up wireless connections to allow thirsty customers to pay for drinks using a credit card and alert the owners when supplies are low or something is wrong.

Retailers are using wireless technology to create cash registers throughout their stores without having to string up new wired networks. Companies that use the technology say it helps improve customer service by making it easier to station workers in different departments of the store.

Many offices use wireless networks to allow employees to move freely around the premises while remaining connected to the Internet and internal networks. Such setups make collaboration easier because co-workers are no longer tied to their desks and can meet in one another's work areas, conference rooms or even hallways.

Combined with, instant messaging, workers could be conducting a meeting inside while keeping outsiders up-to-date on the proceedings though a wirelessly connected laptop or handheld computer.

For users of laptops and handheld computers, Wi-Fi service provides wireless Internet access up to a distance of 500 feet or so at speeds of up to 200 times faster than a dial-up modem. According to market research firm Gartner Inc., by next year, more than 5.4 million people are expected to use Wi-Fi networks regularly.

Working Solution

Sometimes a wired cable local area network isnít always practical or cost effective. If you lease your office space and install a hard wired cable network, you must run wires through walls and ceilings. This wiring installation is permanent. Thus, when you move out of that leased office space, you will probably leave your cable wiring investment behind.

However, if you decided to go with a wireless network Your installation is simpler. A "wireless gateway" is placed on a shelf and "wireless cards" are installed within your computer equipment within their open card slots. All without expensive cabling being installed and installed within a matter of minutes.

For businesses that already have a wired network, turning it into a wireless one can cost less than $100, and most computers can hook up to them with wireless cards that cost $50 to $70.

Your employees can then work within your office wherever itís most convenient for them; at their desk, a shared office, a conference room, or even your lunchroom. All without losing their network WLAN connection. Their productivity will rise. Plus, if you move your office, you may move the components (the WLAN gateway and cards) with you.

Thus, wireless networking not only increased productivity, but save you money by eliminating the cost of cables for a wired network.

Even if you stay with your wired LAN within your office, you may see an increased productivity for those people who are mobile. They may stay connected via a laptop, as they move throughout your office, easily tapping into the resources of the existing wired network. Field sales people can access your company LAN from the airport or a hotel thus greatly increasing productivity.

Security Challenges

Expanding the reach of the network sometimes makes the network available to high-tech peeping toms. Currently, the encryption method built-into the 802.11b wireless standard, is easily cracked by a determined hacker. Thus, allowing intruders to unscramble things such as network passwords and get access to the sensitive files or wreak havoc within your office system.

Other generations of wireless standards such as 802.11a and 802.11g include better encryption.

Wireless Standards

11 Mbps or 54 Mbps wireless products currently come in two standards ó 802.11a or 802.11b.

The prime difference between the 802.11a and 802.11b specifications is speed. The 802.11a standard transmit and receive data at speeds up to 54 Mbps. That is five times faster than 802.11b standard, that transmit up to 11 Mbps. Also, because 802.11a operates in the 5.2 GHz radio frequency band, interference is eliminated with other wireless technologies. Other wireless devises (802.11b products, some cordless phones, and microwave ovens) operate in the 2.4 GHz radio frequency band, thus provide no interference.

The 802.11a is rapidly replacing wired Ethernet networks. At a data rate speeds of up to 54 Mbps, it is faster than the other WLAN standard. 802.11a and 802.11b both have a similar range, but 802.11a provides higher speed throughout the entire coverage area. The 5 GHz frequency band, in which it operates is not currently highly populated, so there is less congestion and chance for interference or signal contention.

The 802.11a standard is the most reliable and efficient medium to accommodate high bandwidth applications.

When you are out of the office and would like to if a local access to the Internet or to your office, check out http://www.wifinder.com. WiFinder develops tools for businesses to manage wireless networks and supply information to simplify remote access for mobile workers. Their web site pinpoints the locations of Wi-Fi service nationwide.


Copyright Steven Presar

About the Author

Steven Presar is a recognized small business technology coach, Internet publisher, author, speaker, and trainer. He provides personal, home, and computer security solutions at www.ProtectionConnect.com. He provides business software reviews at www.OnlineSoftwareGuide.com. In addition, he publishes articles for starting and running a small business at www.Agora-Business-Center.com. Be sure to sign-up for the SOHO newsletter at the site.

Steven Presar