Setting Up Site-Wide/Enterprise Wireless Solution
So, you just started a new job. You have about 1,350 users, only 10 percent of your site is actually networked and there is a skeleton IT infrastructure. Upper management is putting pressure on you to provide 100 percent network coverage throughout the whole site — buildings and field area surrounding the buildings.
This was the situation I found myself in about three years ago. After researching and planning, we (a part-time IT manager, part-time technician and myself, the senior technician) decided to flood wire the whole site before working on the wireless aspect of it.
I’ll describe here how to replicate the process we encountered.
The first thing to do is to decide what wireless standard to go for: IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g or IEEE 802.11a (I won’t mention the new “N” standard, as at time of writing this article, it hasn’t been fully released). Deciding on what standard you go for will have an effect on the site survey.
The “A” standard can have a throughput of up to 54 megabits per second and runs on the 5 gigahertz range (so it has less interference from other devices). On the downside, it has a smaller diameter of coverage compared with the other two standards, so more access points will be required, and it is more susceptible than the other standards to environmental factors (e.g., walls, doors and heaters).
The “B” standard is the slowest but the most popular standard for both home and work. Running up to 11 megabits per second, it’s used with a lot of legacy equipment that is still in use today. It has a wider range than the “A” standard (so fewer access points would be required), but it can get interference from a lot of other devices such as cordless phones, microwave ovens, etc.
Last but not least there is the current “G” standard. This builds on the “B” standard and increases the throughput to 54 megabits per second. Some manufacturers have included super-G technology into their equipment, using two channels to supply up to 108 megabits per second. This causes a lot of interference with other wireless devices on the 2.4 gigahertz range, however, and is susceptible to the same kind of interference to which “B” is prone.
You’ve decided what standard to use. Now, get the site survey done.
You can pay a company about $700 to do an enhanced site survey or just go with the basic wireless site survey that companies will do for free to be able to provide you with a quote.
With the enhanced site survey, that company will have to deal with any errors. Normally, this would include purchasing extra wireless access points to make up the wireless coverage.
If you go with the basic wireless site survey, make sure you go with the company to know the layout of approximately where it intends to place the wireless access points (WAP), or you can do one yourself with an access point, a laptop and a program like NetStumbler.
One thing to remember is that you have to look for range and coverage, as well as quality of signal — for example, where you place a wireless access point might let one laptop connect to it, but if you’ve got 30 laptops trying to transfer lots of data back and forth, you’ve got to take that into consideration.
Now that you’ve got your wireless site survey, you’ll have to decide whether you’re going to go with a centrally managed solution. Prices do differ quite a lot (anywhere from $32,000 to $200,000).
There are various considerations such as the amount of money you have available and the size of your site when selecting whether to go with a centrally managed solution. You could reduce the cost of the wireless system if you decide to purchase the equipment and fit it yourself. This provides the expandability at a severely reduced price, but the onus is on you to ensure your site is covered
So, now you’ve got your wireless infrastructure up and ready to roll, but before you activate the wireless signal, you have to consider security — the last thing you want is for private and confidential documents to go awry or a person to hack into your system to do damage just because your security wasn’t strong enough.
Decide want you want to use, whether it’s the older wired equivalent privacy (WEP), the newer Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), MAC address filtering, not to broadcast the service set identification (SSID) or a combination of security.
Additionally, you can look for new technology such as network access protection offered by MS Server 2008 (and similar technology other companies offer) that you can use in conjunction with the previous mentioned wireless security.
Last but not least, remember to turn off the wireless access points after business hours if possible — it’s hard to try to hack a wireless network when it is not on.
Ken Wagner is an IT network manager and part-time IT lecturer in the United Kingdom. He has lived in the United States, Asia and Europe. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.