Networking

Overcome limited resources with a wireless LAN

Is your organization planning to implement a new network infrastructure for a small workgroup? Do you need to get it up and running quickly but on a limited budget? Ed Engelking looks at the pros and cons of one solution: implementing a wireless LAN.

If you have a temporary office, a small remote office that needs to be set up quickly, or simply a small workgroup that includes laptops or computers that are constantly changing places, you should consider the potential benefits of a wireless LAN. While building a traditional wire-based network for your computers can be costly and time-consuming, a wireless LAN can be quick and relatively inexpensive. This article will examine the advantages of using wireless networking as an alternative to today’s standard category 5 wiring infrastructure.

The limitations of traditional wired networking
Category 5 wired Ethernet networks are definitely the standard in today’s network environment. However, these networks come with considerable cost and maintenance issues, such as the following:
  • A whole lot of wiring going on
    Category 5 cable has come down in price in recent years, but it’s still not cheap, and setting up a network requires a lot of it. A typical network topology includes patch panels, cable jacks, patch cables between the panel and the hub, and patch cables from the jacks to the computers. All in all, we’re talking about some serious wiring.
  • Technician time
    We all know that cable won’t install itself. You need certified technicians to run the wire. These individuals can cost your company a pretty penny, especially if you have nonstandard workgroup configurations or older walls and ceilings.
  • Planning resources
    But before any technician can even think about beginning to lay out wiring, you need to plan the infrastructure. After all, there are certain places wire can and can’t go within a building, and you have to take electronic interference into consideration. You also have to consider future growth and changes within an organization.

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  • Wire degradation
    Cat 5 wire is just like any other wire: It can fail at any moment. When a wire fails, an organization must invest in a technician to isolate the wire and replace it. Meanwhile, someone in the organization usually faces downtime during the repair.
  • Documenting the network
    Administrators must keep detailed records so that when repairs or changes are made or needed, maintenance technicians can replace the old cable with the proper replacement wire.

The advantages of wireless networking
If your company is trying to save money on its networking infrastructure, a wireless solution may be what you need. The following list gives several reasons why an organization should consider using wireless networking:
  • Wireless is just that
    There’s no wiring involved in a wireless networking infrastructure. Instead, data is sent over radio airwaves from PCs via wireless PCMCIA or PCI cards; the data is then received and transmitted from radio access points located strategically throughout the building.
  • Easy maintenance
    Since wireless networks contain only client cards and access points, troubleshooting and maintenance are generally easy to handle. A simple replacement of one or both products can usually resolve any problems. This can save an organization both in terms of lost productivity and technical support costs.
  • Infrastructure planning
    Planning? What planning? As long as there’s signal strength capable of reaching the intended PC cards, your users will have network access even if they move their machines to a different desk or walk across the hall with their laptop to collaborate with a colleague.
  • Integration with existing infrastructure
    What if you already have an existing wire-based infrastructure? Not to worry. Wireless devices can easily be integrated in your existing network. Most access points contain 10/100baseT network interfaces so that they can be joined to existing wire-based Ethernet networks.

Issues to consider
While wireless networking may sound like the way to go, you need to consider a number of factors before rushing to change your existing network:
  • Cost
    Wireless networking equipment costs more up front than standard Ethernet hubs and network cards. However, when you take into consideration what you save in wiring costs, maintenance, and troubleshooting, wireless LANs can be cost-effective, especially for small workgroups.
  • Security flaws
    There are issues with security when it comes to using the technology in business infrastructures. Existing security measures vary from vendor to vendor and may not protect your network 100 percent. A high-security environment should probably avoid wireless LANs until security is strengthened.
  • Speed limitations
    Currently, available bandwidth over a wireless network is limited. While most standard wire-based networks can achieve a 10/100-Mbps rate, wireless is limited to 11 Mbps. However, at the rate of advancement in this technology, look for this limitation to change soon.

Despite these drawbacks to implementing a wireless LAN, the current state of the technology makes it a viable alternative for many small workgroup environments. In future articles, I’ll review wireless LAN products from several popular vendors and give you detailed information on how these products perform.
Has your IT department considered using wireless networking over traditional wire-based category 5 networking? If so, we want to hear about your experiences! Feel free to post a message below or send us a note with your thoughts on doing more with less using wireless networking.
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