Wireless Networking Basics
If you’re interested in setting up a wireless network for your small business, home office or any establishment that needs wireless access, this guide will walk you through the steps to evaluate the role wireless networking technologies can possibly be integrated into your company’s overall networking solution, and help you gain a bit more insight into implementing wireless networking solutions that meet the needs of your small business or organization.
Wireless Networking 5 Steps
Step 1: Understand it. Learn about the benefits of wireless and how it can help your save money and be more productive.
Wired networks give the appearance of a busy office full of the latest equipment, but wires can be an inefficient networking medium. They can limit signal strength and make it harder to expand and reorganize your network configuration. Wired networks require running network cables. This simple and very obvious fact can add to the expense of your network setup. Network cables in and of themselves can add up to quite a bill. Depending on where your network is located, you may have to hire someone to ‘pull’ (install) your network cables. You must consider cable length as a function of your network performance and the possible need for additional network equipment to ensure proper signal strength. Wired networks can be useful and are not obsolete but wireless networks are easier on the small business owners’ budgets!
Wireless networking is a viable and affordable alternative that offers the benefits of making your environment more flexible. A wireless infrastructure allows you to effortlessly reconfigure your office space as your company grows and changes, easily extend connectivity and also allows employees to be mobile more easily.
Even though the cost of wireless LAN hardware components and software can be slightly more expensive, this is offset by the wired LAN cabling and installation costs you can avoid. Add to that the soft-dollar saving and value-add saving benefits associated with wireless LAN and the convenience of being able to move around in a facility and stay connected, and your overall costs are lower still. Learn more about wireless networking
Step 2: Plan it. Conduct an assessment that includes an anticipated return on investment, and then investigate what it will take to integrate wireless technologies with your existing infrastructure. How large is the area that you want your wireless signal to cover? How many and what type of wireless devices will be implemented? How fast do you need your wireless data transmissions to be? Do you have any of the required network equipment already in your existing network?
Review the advantages and consider the benefits to your organization:
- Reduced installation costs. It may be a lot less expensive to install wireless access points compared to wiring your office with Ethernet capabilities.
- Flexibility. If you regularly expand or reorganize your office space, or need to accommodate a variety of network configurations, the rapid transition time from one configuration to another that wireless provides can help reduce your network downtime (probably close to zero downtown). In addition, you won’t have to incur the costs associated with physically rewiring office space and inevitably the expense of replacing network cables that get damaged in the reorganization.
- Convenient information access. With wireless, you’d have the ability to extend access to key information to anyone on your staff, from anywhere in the office, even when they aren’t physically connected to your wired local area network (LAN) connection. Do members of your staff regularly work away from their desks or stations, but could benefit from anytime, anywhere access to important data? Could you improve productivity by increasing access to important company systems? Do you have business processes you could streamline by reducing the number of times employees have to go back to their wired connections?
- Wireless LANs are the way to go, especially where there’s no existing wired network. This is especially true in leased offices, where you can’t go knocking holes in walls
You should next consider what integration points you’ll need to address for the solution to work:
- Evaluate your current and future networking needs. How is your current networking infrastructure configured? How many workstations, offices and conference rooms are connected to the network? How many are not connected that you would like to connect? How many people use the computers and communications systems in your company now? Does your staff conduct business at locations away from their primary work area? What kind of equipment does your staff use? Are they mobile with notebook computers and PDAs or do the majority of your workers use desktop systems? Do those who would benefit most from wireless, mobile access already use notebooks? And if you’re in a leased building with no existing wired network, setting up a wireless network is must simpler than knocking holes in the walls to install your network cables.
- Formulate a plan. The equipment you buy and the way you configure your wireless network will be driven by your business needs and plan, so it’s important to develop a plan before you spend any money on equipment or other resources. As small business owners, budget dollars are limited, so plan twice and buy once!
Step 3: Do it. Once you have a plan in place that defines how you want to add wireless networking capabilities to your office space, you can get down to the business of actually setting up your wireless network. It’s easier than you might think. The first step involves understanding the equipment involved in a wireless network.
Wireless LAN equipment consists of two main components:
- Wireless clients, which are any devices capable of communicating over a wireless LAN, such as a notebook computer, printer, handheld or an XBOX 360 (gotta have stress relief!!).
- Access points, the centers of the wireless-to-wired LAN connectivity. These points aggregate wireless radio signals and then connect the two LANs. The access point is generally about the size of a book. It contains a radio transceiver, communications and encryption software, and an Ethernet port for a cable connection to a hub or a switch on the wired LAN.
Your next step is to actually build a wireless LAN, which you’ll do just like this:
- Identify the equipment you want to buy, such as wireless notebooks, access points, wireless LAN adapters and wireless cards.
- Determine the number of users who need to have access to the network. This will help you determine the number of access points you’ll need.
- Plan for the connection to your wired LAN, probably in a central location and in an open environment. Your goal is to maximize the access point’s wireless range. The average range is a maximum of 300 feet, but that’s very dependent on the existing environment–walls, doors, floors and so on, all can decrease the range. The best thing to do is complete a site survey first; if that’s not possible, assume a maximum range of 150 feet, as 300 could decrease throughput.
- Configure your wireless devices to work with your network. This can be a bit of a challenge, but don’t fret it requires a little patience, your device documentation and another internet connection if possible. Wireless device manufacturers follow basic standards to help ensure that wireless devices from different manufacturers can easily communicate. Most of the time your devices will connect and communicate with out a problem. For the times that your devices don’t ‘play’ well together, you have to dig a bit deeper in your mental capacity and start troubleshooting. Start with your wireless devices’ documentation. Most product documentation will have a FAQ section or Troubleshooting section. If no answers are found there, try to search online to see if you find a solution there…. if all that fails … start emailing and making phone calls.
- Test the installation before it goes live. Using link test software, you should test for the percent of data sent correctly, the time it takes to receive a response from the destination device, and the strength of the transmitted signal.
- Establish a procedure to manage your wireless LAN. What are your procedures for potential down time? What protocols will you follow to manage your wireless network access? What are your security requirements?
Step 4: Use it. Because wireless communications are transmitted through the air rather than over a closed cable, you’ll need to implement some wireless-specific security measures to ensure that your wireless communications are secure. Wireless solutions use three primary tactics:
- MAC (media access control) addressing. This ensures the network access point you purchase supports MAC which restricts network access by unauthorized devices by assigning each network card a unique hardware identification number.
- WEP encryption. Wired Equivalent Privacy. It’s essentially a complicated software algorithm that scrambles data as it’s sent and unscrambles it as soon as it’s received, keeping it safe in transit. It also ensures that you can easily upgrade your access cards as new wireless access standards emerge.
- WPA encryption. Wi-Fi Protected Access. It’s a higher level of protection than WEP. WPA provides more sophisticated data encryption than WEP and also provides user authentication (WEP’s user authentication is considered insufficient)
- Traditional VPN (Virtual Private Network) securities controls. This allows users outside of your system to have access to it. Businesses that use remote access almost always use VPN and combined with the other tactics makes your wireless network extremely secure. VPNs work by encrypting data before it’s sent over a wireless (or wired) link, so even if someone intercepts the transmission, the data is secure. Many larger companies use VPNs, but smaller companies may also just rely on standard wireless encryption. This will be okay if the wireless LAN is only used internally, but if you plan to use public ‘hot spots’, you will need to use a Virtual Private Network.
Step 5: Support it. If you find you need additional help or support, or are planning a larger-scale implementation, there are numerous suppliers and consultants that can offer additional information and support. These suppliers and consultants can help you understand your options, configure your network, set up your systems, and get you up and running quickly and efficiently. Visions Business Services can provide wireless network services, including network planning, network implementation, network security and support.
Author: Keith Barney