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Wireless Local Area Networks

Wireless LAN's work well and are so cost effective and convenient they are becoming extremely popular. Small low cost units for home, enterprise adoption of Wireless LAN, and the availability of public "hotspots" in coffee shops, hotels and airports offer users an ideal way of connecting to networks and fast internet connections. For the enterprise user Wireless LANs offer huge convenience. Laptop users can take their computers with them into meetings and still remain accessible. Desktop users can be more easily moved around the office without the need to install new network sockets, change wiring or LAN configuration. Enterprises benefit from productivity gains as well as cost reductions.

Where a hot-desk environment is being considered a Wireless LAN is the natural solution.

Wireless LAN systems go by the identification 802.11b, the name of the industry standard which all compatible devices use. Wireless LANs using the IEEE 802.11 family of standards are also known as WiFi, an acronym for Wireless Fidelity. Today's systems provide up to 11 Mbps shared bandwidth to users, future systems will increase speeds to 54 Mbps.

Wireless LANs are implemented by installing one or more "Access Points" - these are connected into the existing LAN or Internet connection, or a new satellite broadband connection and provide service for many users.

Each user has a Wireless LAN "Network Interface Card" installed in their laptop, PDA or even desktop computer. Laptop computers will soon be made with the wireless Network Interface Card built in.

In the beginning security of Wireless LANs received some adverse publicity. Unfortunately many home and even corporate users fail to implement the security mechanisms built into Wireless LAN systems. Wireless LAN technology is not infallible but the design of a Wireless LAN installation and the implementation of higher level security can guard Wireless LAN systems against eavesdroppers or intruders.

Simple measures that make sense for all Wireless LAN installations are

Disabling the broadcasting of system identification

  • Disabling the broadcasting of system identification
  • Enabling encryption
  • Enabling user authentication, preferably by linking to enterprise authentication systems such as RADIUS or using MAC address restrictions
  • Not connecting direct to the enterprise Intranet
  • Using VPN technology to provide further security

Wireless LAN equipment is already cost effective. Network Interface Cards in a PC card format for a Laptop cost typically around £50. Enterprise quality infrastructure costs are < £1,000 for appropriate Access Points featuring integration with enterprise IT management and remote access systems.

See also - Bluetooth vs Wireless Local Area Network (Wi-Fi)


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