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How a medium-sized company should start thinking wirelessly

I'm the IT manager for a medium-sized manufacturing company. We would like to install a wireless network hub in the front office so users with laptops can take them into conference rooms and other offices.

Since this will be our first venture into wireless, can you recommend a good hub and suggest some pitfalls to avoid? Thanks!
The wireless LAN equivalent of an Ethernet hub is an 802.11 Access Point (AP). Installing one or more APs near your conference rooms will let you relay LAN traffic from wireless laptops to the Ethernet segment connected to your APs.

This might sound good, and it's what many companies do at first. But adding wireless APs directly to the inside of your company network is dangerous. Anyone in or near your facility, including the lobby, parking lot and offices upstairs/downstairs, will be able to access your company network.

It's better to connect those APs outside your firewall or to your firewall's DMZ and treat incoming traffic as though it were coming from outside your facility. For example, if your workers now use VPN clients to connect to your network from home or hotels, you might re-use those clients to prevent unauthorized network access via wireless.

As WLAN use grows, you may want to invest in a specialized wireless gateway or switch, designed to handle the demands of wireless traffic entering a company network. But, since this is your first venture into wireless, starting small and re-using your existing firewall/VPN might meet your near-term needs with minimal investment.

When purchasing APs, look for Wi-Fi Alliance-certified 802.11g and WPA support. Standard 802.11g interoperates with 802.11b and g clients commonly found on laptops today. WPA can help protect the WLAN itself, whether or not you use VPN clients to control company network access. Top-selling residential APs are available from Linksys, D-Link and others. Top-selling enterprise APs are available from Cisco, Proxim and others. Enterprise APs cost more but often have better management features than residential APs. Stick to APs and avoid residential wireless routers; they enable cable/DSL Internet sharing, which is not the need you are trying to fill here.

This was last published in July 2004

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