||Clueless about wireless 4 things
to keep in mind|
have decided to take the plunge and go to a
wireless network. But there's a dizzying array of
numbers and letters. Security is difficult. Who
could possibly have a grip on this?|
do. So pull up a chair and get a big mug of
caffeine. Together, we'll plow through this
Adding Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) to your
business is straightforward, once you get a grip
on it. Wireless provides tremendous flexibility
for you and your staff. But you have to pick the
right equipment. And you need to understand
security. That is critical.
So, before we do
anything else, let's wade through those catchy
terms. Here are four things to keep in mind.
||It's all about the letter
||Putting it all
An alphanumeric mess|
technology behind wireless is sophisticated and
complicated. There is an entire engineering
standards committee devoted to it. The committee
works in conjunction with the Wi-Fi Alliance to
set standards and goals.|
standards you need to know are 802.11a, 802.11b,
802.11g, 802.11i and 802.11n. Isn't this
Forget about 802.11i for the moment.
That is a security standard. The others are
networking standards. Three — including 802.11b,
802.11g and 802.11n — operate within the 2.4
gigahertz (GHz) radio frequency band.
the same frequency used by Bluetooth devices, baby
monitors, cordless telephones and microwaves. So,
if you use 2.4GHz networking equipment, these
things can interfere.
You can beat the
interference problem by using 802.11a. It operates
in the 5GHz frequency. As a bonus, it operates at
speeds up to 54 megabits per
Unfortunately, it isn't compatible with
the other flavors of Wi-Fi. So if you will be
hitting the road with a laptop, your 802.11a card
will be a liability. Public Wi-Fi hotspots offer
802.11b or g. They won't accommodate your 802.11a
One of the other wireless standards
might be a better choice. But 802.11b is
relatively slow. It's rated at just 11Mbps,
maximum. To address the speed issue, 802.11g was
developed. It supports a data rate of up to
54Mbps. But it still has the potential
interference issues of the 2.4GHz band.
newest standard, 802.11n, promises theoretical
data rates of up to 540Mbps. It also offers
greater range, a chronic Wi-Fi problem. Vendors
are introducing products such as wireless routers
and PC cards. But the 2.4GHz radio frequency
interference remains an issue.
this writing, the 802.11n standard has not been
finalized. That could mean compatibility problems
between pieces of equipment.
eventually go for one of the 2.4GHz networking
standards. They use a site survey to ensure that
potential interference is avoided. For instance,
microwaves can be moved. And cordless phones can
use different channels within the 2.4GHz
And one more thing: Mixing devices
on the same network can be a delicate operation.
Obviously, 802.11a devices will not work with
Supposedly, 802.11b, g and n
devices will work together. After all, they all
run on the 2.4GHz band. But I wouldn't count on
that. If I were starting from scratch, I'd buy all
one standard. It wouldn't be a bad idea to buy
from one manufacturer, too.
Buying wireless equipment|
with the letters and numbers already!|
a scenario to put this all in perspective. You
have an office with 25 employees. You have a
cabled network for the desktop computers, but
would like the flexibility wireless laptops
provide. What should you purchase?
will need a wireless access point. This device is
connected via an Ethernet cable to any port on the
network. You will need wireless PC cards for each
laptop. The only caveat is distance, which will
determine the number of access points.
wireless laptop may roam past the network's
signal. Additional access points can be placed
strategically to increase the coverage area.
Consider placing an access point every 150 feet
indoors as a general strategy.
offices have similar computing needs: file and
print sharing, e-mail and Internet browsing. The
decision about how fast you need the wireless
segment to be is dependent upon what you need it
for. Remember: Your system cannot run any faster
on the Internet than your Web connection.
high data rates are promised by 802.11n. It might
be overkill for a small office network. You might
find that 802.11g is more than adequate, running
up to 54Mbps.
At this point, I would go for
802.11g equipment. It is proven and should be fast
enough in most cases. Laptops equipped with
802.11g should work at commercial hotspots. If you
have salesmen on the road, that will be
When you buy your equipment, be sure
that it is Wi-Fi certified. That promises
(hopefully!) that the equipment will work with
other certified gear.
You can check on
certification easily. On the Wi-Fi Alliance site,
select equipment by type, vendor and capabilities.
But, before you choose your equipment, let's talk
It's all about the letter "i"|
networks put your data into the air. Unsecured
wireless networks are a significant security risk.
So, encryption is used to ensure that data cannot
The state-of-the-art wireless
encryption today is WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access,
second generation). That also is known as 802.11i.
Snoopers can intercept data encrypted by WPA2. But
they cannot read it. The data will appear as
If you already have wireless
equipment, it may have WPA encryption. WPA is an
interim standard that was used before the approval
of WPA2. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, WPA is
You also could have WEP, which
stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy. This is an
old, and easily broken, encryption standard. If
you are using it, you should upgrade to WPA2. Some
manufacturers can download an upgrade to
Otherwise, buy new equipment. WEP is
dangerous. You might as well have no encryption at
Putting it all together|
can have your wireless network up and running in
literally minutes. That is, if you have purchased
gear that is compatible, certified by the Wi-Fi
Alliance, and that supports WPA2 security. Really,
the hardest part is over.|
The access point can
be connected to any port on the network. The PC
cards generally come with an installation CD. But
Windows XP will recognize and install most drivers