What You Need to Know about Wireless Networks

What You Need to Know about Wireless Networks

What Is Wireless Networking?
How Your Company Can Use Wireless Networking
Getting Started with Wireless Networks
Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Partner

What Is Wireless Networking?

Work has permanently moved out of the office and into the conference room and onto warehouse floor; to the car, home, airport, hotel and coffee shop. To take advantage of this freedom, small businesses are using both wireless networks and WiFi hotspots to stay in touch with co-workers, customers, and partners.

A wireless local-area network (LAN) allows you to connect your computers without wires or cables. Need a document off the server when you are in the conference room? Want to access your inventory system from your warehouse? A wireless network makes this easy by using radio waves to let mobile devices within a certain area to connect and communicate.

Benefits of Going Wireless

The benefits of wireless networks are both short- and long-term including:

  • Convenience: All notebook computers and many mobile phones today come equipped with the WiFi technology required to connect directly to a wireless LAN. Employees can securely access your network resources from any location within your coverage area. A coverage area is typically your facility, although it can stretch to include more than one building.
  • Mobility: Employees can stay connected to the network even when they're not at their desks. People in meetings can access documents and applications. Salespeople can check the network for important details from any location.
  • Productivity: Access to information and your company's key applications helps your staff get the job done and encourages collaboration. Visitors (such as customers, contractors or vendors) can have secure guest access to the Internet and their business data.
  • Ease of setup: When you don't have to run physical cables through a location, installation can be quick and cost-effective. Wireless LANs also make it easier to bring network connectivity to hard-to-reach locations, such as a warehouse or factory floor.
  • Scalability: As your business operations grow, you may need to quickly expand your network. Wireless networks can typically expand with existing equipment, while a wired network might require additional wiring.
  • Security: Controlling and managing access to your wireless network is important to its success. Advances in WiFi technology provide robust security protections so your data is easily available to only the people you allow access.
  • Cost: It can cost less to operate a wireless LAN, which eliminates or reduces wiring costs during office moves, reconfigurations, or expansions.

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How Your Company Can Use Wireless Networking

Every minute counts in a small company and wireless networks are a powerful tool for boosting productivity and encouraging information sharing. With untethered access to documents, emails, applications and other network resources, employees can roam where they need to and have constant access to the tools required to do their jobs.

Here are some of the ways businesses are taking advantage of wireless LANs:

Increased mobility and collaboration

  • Roam without losing your connection
  • Work together more effectively

Employees who use your wireless LAN can roam around your office or to different floors without losing their connection. Imagine everyone in a team meeting or in small conferences having access to up-to-the minute communications, and all documents and applications on your network. Similarly, using Voice over Wireless LAN technology, they can have roaming capabilities in their voice communications.

Improved responsiveness

  • Connect to the information you need when you need it
  • Provide better customer service

Customers want quick response to queries and concerns. A wireless network can improve customer service by connecting staff to the information they need. For example, a doctor in a small medical office can access online patient files while moving between exam rooms, or a retail sales person can check on available inventory necessary to write up orders on the showroom floor.

Better access to information

  • Connect hard-to-reach areas
  • Improve your processes

Wireless LANs allow a business to bring network access to areas that would be difficult to connect to a wired network. For example, adding wireless access points to a warehouse can make it easier to check and manage inventory, providing the company with accurate inventory figures in real time.

Easier network expansion

  • Add users quickly
  • Grow your network cost-effectively

Companies that need to add employees or reconfigure offices frequently will immediately benefit from the flexibility wireless LANs provide. Desks can be moved and new employees can be added to the network without the effort and cost required to run cables and wires.

Enhanced guest access

  • Give secure network access to customers and business partners
  • Offer a value-added service

A wireless network allows your business to provide secure wireless access to the Internet for guests such as customers or business partners. Retailers, restaurants, hotels and other public-facing businesses can provide this as a unique value-added service.

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Getting Started with Wireless Networks

Once it is clear how a wireless LAN can help your business, you are ready to take the next step and think about getting the project off the ground. The following is a list of considerations to get you started.

Connecting your PCs
All notebook computers and many desktop PCs have integrated WiFi and will be able to access your wireless network as soon as it is up and running. If not, you will need to install a wireless adapter card, usually a matter of plugging one into your computer's PCI slots, or connect via a wired LAN.

Status of your current network
Adding a wireless LAN doesn't mean switching from your existing wired network. It is common for businesses to extend the reach of their existing networks by creating a hybrid wired-wireless network that provides wireless capabilities in conference rooms, general meeting areas or in new office space. Wireless networks that support voice communications should be set up to provide broad coverage, however.

Location of access points
Wireless LAN coverage is finite - each access point covers up to 3000 square feet. The range of an access point may be affected by obstacles such as walls and cubicles, and radio signals can't penetrate metal, such as elevator shafts. Some issues to be aware of include:

  • Wireless access is shared and a good rule of thumb is 15-20 users per each access point for data, 8-12 for voice
  • For voice over WLAN quality, access points should be installed more closely together
  • The strength of the wireless signal can decrease the longer it has to travel
  • Access points get better coverage when installed on the ceiling

Network growth
One of the chief benefits to a wireless LAN is the ability to add new users quickly. Make sure that your wireless solution fits your needs today, and can grow as your requirements change. Ask your solutions provider about how easy upgrades and enhancements will be to implement.

Security
Security in a wireless network is key to consider and a routine part of establishing a wireless network. Some security methods to fold into your planning include:

  • Data encryption, so information can only be accessed by authorized users
  • User authentication, which identifies computers that are trying to access the network
  • Secure access for visitors and guests
  • Control systems, which protect the PCs and other devices that use the network

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Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Partner

A channel partner is an important ally in choosing and using a wireless network. A knowledgeable partner who can guide you to the right solution will help you develop a safe and flexible wireless network.

Here are five key questions to ask potential partners who offer SMB Solutions:

  1. Do you specialize in working with small and medium-ohsized businesses (SMBs)? Cisco has a network of certified partners who specifically focus on providing technology solutions and support to SMBs. Many of these partners are SMBs themselves, so they understand the business challenges you face and the goals you have in mind. Cisco certified partners have proven their qualifications in specialized technologies. They have the training, support, and services to design, deploy, and optimize networking solutions for your business. They also stay up to date on the latest software and hardware changes as well as upcoming Cisco products and solutions.
  2. What type of service and support do you offer after the sale? Ask your partner detailed questions about the support he or she can offer after the sale. For example: Does the partner offer after-hours or emergency support? If so, during what hours is that support available? The specific support levels offered should be detailed in a service level agreement (SLA). Also, keep in mind many Cisco partners offer award-winning technical support service that offers anytime access to Cisco engineers and an extensive range of technical resources.
  3. How will this new solution integrate with my existing IT environment? A Cisco partner can discuss your business requirements and evaluate your current systems and network infrastructure. From there, a Cisco Partner can present solution options that will meet your needs today, grow with your business over time, and fit within your budget requirements.
  4. How will this solution help me save money and control my costs? An end-to-end solution from Cisco is easier to maintain and support than a, multi-vendor solution. Also, when budgeting for network enhancements, always take into account the cost of any software not included with your hardware purchases; maintenance; training; support; additional staff (if needed); and other factors. Research firm Gartner estimates such indirect costs account for up to 60% of an organization's total technology expenditures. As a result, by working with your Cisco partner, you can achieve the best possible TCO.
  5. What do we need to do to prepare? Before the installation, ask your partner what information about your network, users, business procedures, and security requirements he or she needs from you to make the network upgrade go as smoothly as possible. Also ask your partner what are the common oversights or challenges businesses like yours face when upgrading their networks, and how you should prepare for them.

Questions?

Contact a Cisco partner to learn more and get exactly what you need.

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