Corporate Wi-Fi Integration, Part 4

Mike Houghton wraps up his four-part series on integrating Wi-Fi with your corporate IT environment by providing a glimpse into the future and some final recommendations for a successful implementation.

The Future of Wi-Fi

Only a year ago, most Wi-Fi hotspots where limited to places like airports, hotels, hospitals, cafes, and the warehousing market. Today, it’s not easy to find a business that doesn’t use wireless technology in some way or another.

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Placing your first access points where employees congregate, such as conference rooms and cafeterias, is a great way to stress test your setup and plan for future rollouts.

Wi-Fi is all about mobility. With this concept in mind its easy to see how this technology will begin to see more of an impact with mobile PC’s, cell phones, PDA’s and other portable computing devices.

With today’s cell phones, we see ranges of up to 3 miles. Using WiFi’s new proposed 802.16d standard, also known as WiMax, phones using VoIP in conjunction with this technology could conceivably have a range of up to 20 miles. It’s easy to see why this technology will soon reach everywhere.

While it seems that virtually every major electronics maker and service provider have rolled out Wi-Fi products, there are a few exceptions. Some companies such as Verizon and Sprint have chosen to focus their resources on another emerging 3G technology known as EV-DO (Evolution Data Only). As with all new technologies, there are trade offs. EV-DO and Wi-Fi are no exceptions.

Corporate Recommendations

So what’s the head of IT to do? Simple… hop on the Wi-Fi train before it leaves the terminal, that is, if you don’t want your company to get left behind.

Whether it’s a consumer or industrial application, the investment is minimal and the pay-offs are high, contributing to such things as productivity, company image, freedom, and impact on potential customers and investors.

Introducing Wi-Fi technology to your wired network can be taken in several small steps if you already have a solid wired network in place. A basic install will consist of connecting Access Points (AP’s) in the test areas. Mounting these to the walls under dropped ceiling tiles for easy access is always a good practice. Using conference rooms, entrance foyers and even the cafeteria as a test bed for your initial installation works well for a host of reasons.

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Hiring a qualified site surveyor is something to consider if you’re not willing to make the initial investment for tools such as Berkeley Variatronics’ Yellow Jacket Survey tool. These can be expensive to own but they are absolutely essential if you’re seriously considering extending your network wirelessly.

Once the AP’s have been mounted and securely configured, you will need Wi-Fi Network Interface cards (WLAN NIC’s). Most newer laptop and tablet PC’s have them built in, and if not, springing for one of these handy little gadgets puts a mere $50 (and under) dent in you budget.

The final and arguably most critical component is the encryption method. Many businesses are using the Funk Odyssey client. This comparatively inexpensive software will secure the information being transmitted through free air. Unfortunately, this software is geared primarily towards Windows operating systems.

Final Word

While I have tried to point out the pros and the cons behind using Wi-Fi in an enterprise environment, including both the hype from the manufactures and real life expectations from the users, I don’t want to understate the driving force behind going wireless.

That, in a word, is mobility.

The move from wired to wireless should not be approached from an absolute perspective, but as more of a hybrid of the two. There is no need get engrossed in the “hows and whys” of data being moved from one component to another. Granted, having a firm grasp of basic IP communications is a prerequisite to understanding Wi-Fi, but it is not the only factor explaining its popularity.

These are, in my opinion, the best reasons to welcome Wi-Fi into your business:

  • Wi-Fi is rapidly gaining acceptance. It has gone from being located in tiny Internet cafes to becoming the network backbone of universities, hospitals, entire cities and most major industries around the world.
  • Wi-Fi is proven. Wireless network access is used by nearly every major enterprise on the planet in one form or another.
  • Wi-Fi = Mobility

Resources:

802.16e WiMax: http://www.wi-fiplanet.com/news/article.php/3364141
Cell Phones: http://www.smartphonetoday.com/
EV-DO: http://www.infoworld.com/article/04/08/02/HNevdo_1.html
Yellow Jacket: http://www.bvsystems.com/Products/WLAN/YJ802.11bg/YJ802.11bg.htm
Funk: http://www.funk.com/radius/wlan/wlan_suite.asp

The Complete Corporate Wi-Fi Integration Series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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