Wireless business networks allow multiple computers to share files, software applications, printers, and a single, high speed Internet connection. Several versions of wireless systems have developed since 1998, each still useful, depending on the nature of the business and its practical requirements. Home computer users embraced wireless technology from its inception, but business users have only recently begun incorporating wireless networking recently, owing to system and information security concerns.(O'Reilly)
Whereas traditional (cabled) configurations transfer data at a rate of 100mb/sec, wireless capability generally ranges (realistically) between 5-6mb/sec and 54mb/sec. The very latest incarnation of cabled networks ("gigabyte networking") offers a 1000mb/sec rating compared to about 108mb/sec rating of the corresponding wireless "triband" systems just introduced to market within the last few months.(Briere)
Initial site surveys of this facility suggest that careful consideration is in order with respect to a tradeoff between signal strength and frequency owing to the physical layout of this facility and the type(s) of primary uses anticipated. A comprehensive review necessarily includes one version of a wired network as well, in the absence of a satisfactory balance between the relative capabilities and limitations of wireless options currently available.
In addition to system capabilities, a feasibility analysis requires a consideration of network security issues and ancillary equipment or software expenses to mitigate some of the vulnerabilities inherent to wireless communications as compared to traditional wired configurations.(O'Reilly)
Wireless Networking Options:
Standard wireless networking system were originally designated "802.11" by the nonprofit IEEE and certified by the nonprofit Wi-Fi Alliance.(Steers) Since then, three distinct
802.11 systems evolved, designated 802.11b, 802.11a, and 802.11g, in chronological order.
All 802.11 wireless systems share common principles, but they differ in specific suitability by virtue of capability, security, cost and compatibility issues particular to each. Generally,
802.11b and 802.11g systems are most suitable for business users, primarily because 802.11a systems are incompatible with evolving technology. In some cases, otherwise obsolete
802.11a systems still represent the best choice, whereas in other cases, a non-wireless
alternative relying on the electrical wiring infrastructure of the facility is better suited to business requirements than any wireless 802.11 system currently available.
Prior to 2003, 802.11b technology represented the only real wireless option since its introduction to market approximately four years earlier. Transmitting along a microwave frequency of 2.4 Mhz, it is rated at a data transfer rate of 11mb/sec, but realistically, 5 or
6 mb/sec is a more accurate estimate. Similarly, hardware specifications list a 150-foot indoor range and a 300-foot maximum outdoor range between base station and network terminals, but background radio signal interference, wall layout and building materials are factors contributing to a more realistic working range of about half that distance.(Steers)
Therefore, a site survey is crucial before selecting an 802.11b system, both to determine suitability, as well as to ensure optimal placement of the access point, since degradation of signal strength corresponds to dramatically decreased data transfer rates.(Steers)
802.11b hardware includes a wireless "router" or base station which connects directly to the high-speed modem, DSL, or cable modem. Each network desktop computer requires a USB port adapter, while networked laptops require a wireless PCMCIA card. 802.11b
routers are available at an approximate cost of $100, and USB adapters or PCMCIA cards priced about half that, per unit. Users report that laptops featuring built-in, fully integrated
PCI cards offer slightly better range than after-market addition of PCMCIA wireless cards, for about the same added cost.(Steers) In late 2003, Intel introduced the Centrino microprocessor chip, which is specifically designed for full integration within the laptop power system to extend battery life significantly.
Prior to 2003, wireless network users requiring data transfer rates exceeding the maximum capabilities of 802.11b technology for sharing large files or complex applications
(such as graphic design firms), and those requiring extensive printing among multiple terminals (such as accounting firms), were relegated to wired networking systems. Early 2003
saw the introduction of 5.4 Mhz 802.11a technology, which offers extended signal range and correspondingly faster data transmission capabilities.
A device called a "repeater" came out a few months later, enabling 802.11b users to boost their 2.4 Mhz signal, as an alternative to the newer and more expensive 802.11a
hardware in appropriate physical environments and under certain technical requirements that would otherwise absolutely require either wired networking or costly upgrades to 802.11a
equipment, which is incompatible with 802.11b software and equipment.
In 2003, 802.11a systems opened up wireless networking to business operations whose requirements exceeded the capabilities of the prior state of the art. Implementation concerns are similar to 802.11b systems, with both routers and adapters costing about 30%
more than their latest 802.11b counterparts.(Steers)
The primary benefit of 802.11a is that it's 5.4 Mhz operational frequency boosts its rated data transfer speed to 54 mb/sec, or about half that in practice. It is of little added value where the main requirement is mainly a shared Internet connection, because even 802.11b
running at 11/5mb/sec is already at least twice the speed of the cable modem connection or high-speed connection, itself (approximately 2mb/sec).
On the other hand, operations needing to accommodate several users sharing a wireless printer or regularly transferring larger files might employ 802.11a successfully, where 802.11b either projected to be or proved to be insufficient. 802.11a also allows a wireless sharing of server-based applications, which are typically too large for 2.4 Mhz transfer rates.
Several factors militate against the installation of 802.11a technology, chief among them, a shorter signal range that is also less able to penetrate interior walls. In our particular case, these limitations precluded our considering a wireless transition. Our site survey report concluded that an 802.11b connection provided insufficient data transfer speed for efficient operations.
Initially, it seemed that the physical layout of our offices were within the published range capabilities of 802.11a systems. It turns out that wireless range is further limited by what software engineers refer to as "overhead," which consists of technical software components, such as protocols and error correcting mechanisms necessary for data transfers to take place.(Steers) Unfortunately, according to the site survey report, signal drop-off between offices exceeded the parameters necessary to implement 802.11a technology.
The most recent innovation is a signal repeater that amplifies the 5.4 Mhz 802.11a
signal in the manner that repeaters already available amplify the 2.4 Mhz 802.11b signal.
Nevertheless, while an amplified signal might enable an 802.11a systems to satisfy our current requirements, 802.11a equipment is not upgradeable to evolving wireless technology and will require a completely new network installed from scratch in order to incorporate future developments. In many respects, 802.11a is on the verge of obsolescence, except in that it may continue to serve adequately where it is already employed operationally.
By contrast, 802.11b systems are upgradeable, so production is likely to continue, because the data transfer speed of its 5.4 Mhz signal is perfectly sufficient for sharing a single
Internet connection wirelessly, and for file sharing of text files and email programs. The latest generation of 5.4 Mhz signal repeaters offers very significant range improvement, allowing wireless networking even between neighboring buildings.
Unfortunately, even the most expensive repeaters only extend signal range; the inability of an 802.11b system to handle our volume (and file size) requirements cannot be
"boosted" in the manner that range can be extended with hardware.(Brandt) Furthermore, as will be addressed in greater detail subsequently, our data security concerns likely require more sophisticated data encryption than currently supported by both earlier versions of
802.11 component systems. Ultimate resolution of this particular concern will depend on the conclusions of our pending a comprehensive analysis by our data security department.
Approximately six months ago, 802.11g technology hit the wireless networking market. The main improvement offered by 802.11g is that signal compression hardware
doubles the 54 mb/sec data transfer speed of 802.11a systems, using a 2.4 Mhz signal that is completely "backward compatible" with older 802.11b hardware transmitting along the same frequency.(D-Link)
Innovative techniques like Packet Bursting, Fast Framing, Multi-Channel
Broadcasting, and Select Mode allow the wireless transmission of tremendously large video files as well as the transfer of files from PC to DVD hardware.(D-Link) 802.11g
implementation requires routers and adapters that are approximately twice the cost of their 802.11b and 802.11a counterparts, because the technology is so new.
Perhaps the most significant improvement offered by upgrading to 802.11g is the increased level of data security afforded by Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) data encryption mode, replacing the readily exploitable Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP)
employed by earlier wireless routers. In our situation, data security is of paramount importance, to the extent that even 802.11g might be insufficiently safe. Even data
protected by the more secure WPA encryption is more vulnerable during wireless transmission than during traditional wired transmission.
Another significant feature of the newest 802.11g systems is Virtual Private
Networking (VPN), which allows users to access the network system remotely, from home or the road. This is particularly valuable where users require remote access to server-based applications, and it also allows remote…