How to Set Up and Maintain a Wireless Workplace

Wireless networks aren't just a convenience anymore; they've become an essential part of business culture. It's nearly impossible to walk into a workplace that doesn't use Wi-Fi in some fashion. For the millions of portable wireless devices--from traditional laptops to smartphones and (including Apple's iDevices and the ever-expanding menagerie of )--that people carry with them today, is the great connector, providing an industry-standard communication layer for untethered devices.

Making your organization Wi-Fi-friendly is good business. Wireless support can foster goodwill among visitors, enable the workforce to stay connected to the company while on the road, and provide network access in areas that are either too expensive or too inconvenient to reach easily with traditional network cabling. But pulling off a successful Wi-Fi deployment can be tricky. For instance, it may seem like a good idea to buy the lowest-cost access point (AP) and stick it in a corner, but such a minimalist approach is unlikely to yield the results you're looking for.

Before embarking on a company-wide deployment, you should make sure that Wi-Fi will meet your needs. If you want to give laptops, tablets, and other devices wireless support for Web surfing, Wi-Fi is a great fit. It's also good for asymmetric application access--that is, for situations where users consume bandwidth in just one direction.

The chinks in Wi-Fi's armor become evident, however, if you try to use it with non-Web-based line-of-business applications, such as "fat" client/server applications. Also, software packages that can't deal with occasional communication glitches are less than ideal for Wi-Fi. When I attempted to run a popular small-business accounting package over Wi-Fi, I ran into trouble continually because the software couldn't tolerate occasional momentary lapses in connectivity. Though a Web browser would never even notice such minor issues, applications that send a lot of traffic and can't handle communication errors are poorly suited to Wi-Fi.

Likewise, if you try to stream multimedia content via Wi-Fi, you may encounter difficulties. Depending on your setup and on the quality of your AP, users may be disappointed, especially on densely populated APs. Cheap, low-cost APs typically work fine for a few users, but they can't keep up when you scale to ten or so.