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Wireless LAN planning guide

Wireless networking will soon be an indispensable part of any IT arsenal. But before you implement it, you'll need a plan of attack that covers security, staffing and management considerations.

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part advice series on planning wireless networks. In part 2 of our wireless LAN planning guide, experts share the best practices for planning and securing your wireless network.

Is your small or medium-sized business (SMB) ready for its first wireless LAN and ubiquitous notebook access? If not, it probably will be soon.

Two years ago, fewer than 25% of all SMBs in the U.S. had a wireless LAN. Today, the figure has grown to 36% for companies with fewer than 100 employees, and 52% for medium-sized companies (100 to 999 employees), according to Ray Boggs, vice president, SMB research, at IDC in Framingham, Mass. Boggs said the penetration rate will continue to grow at a clip of 5% for small companies and 9% for medium-sized firms over the next 12 months.

So, if your SMB is planning to go wireless, how will it get there? asked four experts for their advice on how SMBs can get started in wireless, including strategies for planning, selecting the right technology and securing wireless networks.

The plan

Step one: Ask yourself why your SMB needs wireless networking in the first place.

Paul DeBeasi, a senior analyst at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group Inc. who has helped implement numerous wireless LANs, asks prospective clients, "Are you just trying to provide Internet access for employees? Are you trying to provide Internet access for guests when they visit, vendors or customers? Are you trying to do voice, in addition to data?"

Your answers will determine how you should proceed.

Boggs added that your research also needs to consider how many knowledge workers will access the wireless network and the types of applications they will use over it.

SMBs should also ask themselves, "Where are we today, and where do we want to be? Where are we likely to be in one, two, five years in terms of staffing and connectivity requirements?" Boggs said.

Staffing considerations are also important, including whether it's better for your in-house staff to handle the wireless project or if outsourcing the job to a contractor is a safer bet.

Step two: Conduct a site survey.

Before you settle on your core wireless technology, take a walk around your facility. Decide which offices and common areas, such as the cafeteria, may need wireless coverage, and where you may encounter interference from other radio-based devices or heavy machinery.

You should also determine whether your network -- today or in the future -- will serve multiple floors or more than one building.

It's just an expectation that if you don't have wireless, you're kind of behind the times.

Paul DeBeasi
senior analystBurton Group Inc.

The site survey should also include a coverage analysis, a search for dead spots and strategic locations for wireless access points. John Riddle, president of value-added reseller Information Networking Co., in Irvine, Calif., noted that contractors or your own IT people can use test equipment to monitor coverage through a sample access device.

This is also the time to determine where you need to add wires. Yes, wires.

"A lot of people forget that when they install a wireless LAN, wires are still needed," said Riddle, noting that wireless access points still need LAN connections back to the computer room and electrical connections. You may be able to hide a wireless access device in a corner ceiling panel of your conference room, but you'll be running wires if there's no electrical outlet or Ethernet connection nearby.

Part two covers wireless LAN technology selection and security.

James M. Connolly is a technology and business writer based in Norwood, Mass. Let us know what you think about this tip; email">.

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