wireless network

Are Wireless Networks as Safe and Stable as Wired?

Are Wireless Networks as Safe and Stable as Wired? 150 150 Simon Randall

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Wireless networking has revolutionised the way that most
LANs (Local Area Networks) are set up and used, but is it as safe and stable as
a conventionally wired network?

The majority of SMEs have multiple PCs on site – the more
personnel, the more computers they need, and usually, these computers have to
be linked or networked. This is done in order to enable the PCs to share
software programs and utilities that are essential and specific to any
particular organisation’s business, and/or to be able them to get onto the
Internet via one central point.

Wired LAN Cabling

Most of the new business premises that are built today often
have
network cabling
preinstalled. Where premises are not prewired, then cable-trunking or “raceways”
have to be installed to deliver the cabling neatly and safely, (trailing cables
are a health and safety hazard) to the point of service. 

This obviously involves a cost, albeit not an overly large
one. The biggest failing of many companies is short-sightedness. If cheap
cabling is used in order to keep the cost down, or not enough outlets are
included in the cabling, it can mean costly upgrades, or, in a worst case
scenario, a complete rewiring may be necessary. Future proofing is always
necessary when it comes to IT infrastructures.

Wireless LANs v Wired LANs

The advent of wireless
networking
, (commonly referred to as Wi-Fi), has given businesses a new
option, and a way of avoiding having to have cabling in place, or having to
have it installed. But many business owners are concerned as to which
methodology is more stable, and more safe – wireless or wired.

Hard Wired into Stability

Wi-Fi has come a long way since it first came onto the scene
back in 1991. It was designed by NCR and intended for use in its cashier system
business. It is now much faster than it was in those early days; it’s had to be
in order to handle the huge amounts for data we now push around.

But when it comes down to stability, you cannot beat an
actual physical connection – unless that physical connection breaks of course.
Then, depending on the nature of the break, locating and fixing it can be
difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

However, serious, costly, breaks are few and far between.
There are no moving parts to go wrong, other than the connectors on the spur boxes,
and the PCs ports, and these only move when they are physically connected and
disconnected.

Improved Wireless Stability

Most people would agree that a wired network is more stable
than an unwired one. However, wireless technology has come a long way since it
was first introduced, and so has PC/Laptop design and performance.  All of these factors mean wireless LANs are
now much more stable than they once were. So whilst a wired network solution
has an edge over unwired – that edge is now a fine one, depending on the size
and nature of your intranet and organisation.

One of the biggest problems with wireless is the number of
people sharing the wireless signal. The more there are, the slower the speed.
But even that can be addressed by using or upgrading to more powerful, state of
the art, routers that utilise 802.11ac
protocols
.

The Security Aspect of Unwired v Wired

Of all the debates that take place as to the pros and cons
of wired or wireless LANs, the safety versus security argument is the one that
gets the most airing. In the cold light of day, wired is more secure than
unwired. It’s entirely logical when you stop to think about it. The only people
who can tap into a hard wired network are the people physically there on the
premises; and even then, they normally have to enter some sort of password
depending on the security protocols that the IT support department imposes.

What’s good enough for the Pentagon….

But with a wireless network, potentially anybody within
range of the signal can tap into it, and once they do, they may be able to
access sensitive or confidential data. But as with anything to do with
electronics, and computing in particular, things move pretty quickly. There are
always new technologies being developed, and expertise marches on apace. The
latest encryption for deployment on Wi-Fi or wireless networks is WPA2. Even the
Pentagon relies on WPA2 encryption, (or so I’m told), and what’s good enough
for them is probably good enough for anybody else.

The Best of Both Worlds

What most businesses tend to do today is to operate both
wired and wireless delivery systems for their LANs. It’s an entirely logical
decision. One of the biggest problems with having only a hard wired delivery
system is – what happens when businesses take on addition staff, or have to
deal with lots of visitors? This will depend on bandwidth and again, the size
of organisation and cabling solution. With the increasing use of fibre optics and air blown
cabling, options for the enterprise just keep on getting better.

Wireless also deals with the issue of mobility. BYOD schemes
have enabled workforces to be much more productive as workers can connect to
the office network via an internet connection using their own devices and
access any data on the network, with the correct permissions and logins.

Preparing for a Wireless Network – infrastructure design and installation

Preparing for a Wireless Network – infrastructure design and installation 150 150 Simon Randall

Implementing
a wireless network can be a straightforward and painless process, it just
requires an appropriate level of planning. 
Wi-Fi networks are typically added on to existing wired infrastructure
to allow for internet /network connection. 
This means that the underlying network topology will remain the same,
although it may need to be up-scaled if the Wi-Fi network is being installed to
accommodate an increase in traffic, rather than just to provide an alternative
means of accessing a company network. 

Start by putting the
right team in place

Obviously
the IT team will be the linchpin of the implementation, but it should always be
remembered that the proposed network is to serve the needs of the business and
to ensure this happens it is very advisable to have representation from other
areas of the business, at least from business area managers.  If they are kept in the loop at the very least
they can take ownership of keeping their teams informed.

Create a project roadmap
based on the following criteria

On site surveys

At this
point, it’s worthwhile recapping what Wi-Fi actually is.  Wi-Fi is based on radio technology.  Because Wi-Fi signals are transmitted through
the atmosphere, they need to be powerful enough to cope with interference from
various sources, in particular weather and other Wi-Fi networks.  Signals work best in clear spaces and while
they can generally withstand minor obstacles, such as lamp-posts (albeit usually
weakened), they do not normally have enough strength to transmit through very thick
walls, metal concrete or metal and do not bend around corners. 

IT team canvas users


By the
time you come to the planning stage, the IT team should have already carried out
usage questionnaires with employees to determine how they are likely to use the
network. The results of this can then be used to decide what security and
software measures will have to be implemented. This is especially with regard
to BYOD, as it’s likely there will be a large variety of handsets and tablets
that require managing.

Develop the system
architecture

This
should encompass everything from the mobile devices which can/will be used, to
the servers with which they will ultimately connect and the support services
which will keep everything running smoothly.

It’s also
worth bearing in mind how future proof your network is likely to be. We all
know that technology moves at an incredible pace, so ask your engineers about
the lifespan of the network. These are generally somewhere between 5-10 years
and the physical infrastructure makes up the backbone of the organization’s IT
network.

At the
moment, there are a few things to consider:

·        
Likelihood
of physical infrastructure being deployed to the cloud

·        
Bandwidth
and how high it’s likely to reach, especially if collaboration and streaming
video will be widely used

Although
it may be tempting to design the infrastructure and then look for devices which
fit into it, it’s usually better to start with the mobile devices and work
backwards.  The reason for this is that
the mobile devices are going to be the end-users’ gateway to the network and
for the project to be a long-term success, it is crucial that these devices are
as close a fit to their needs as they can be. 

Begin the RFP process

While
price alone should never be the deciding factor, it’s worth making a point of
explicitly checking for extra costs such as training, consultancy, support and
further development work.  You will need
to decide if you want the entire contract handled by one provider or if you are
happy to split it between different providers for each aspect of the service.

Look for a network
provider

Again
price alone is not a reliable guide to service. 
Look for coverage (quality as well as quantity), speed, reliability
capacity, latency and flexibility as well as quality support.

Test your solution
thoroughly

Thoroughly
means in the field as well as in the lab. 
It means having a clear test plan which details what needs to be tested
and how and the minimum standards for the test to be considered a success.  It also means being prepared to refine and
retest for as long as is necessary until these requirements are met. 

Testing
should include:

·        
Heavy
traffic

·        
Challenging
conditions (weather/interference)

·        
Speed

·        
Reliability
(soak testing)

·        
Ability
to reroute (in the event of component failure)

·        
Functionality
and usability testing.

Create, document and
publish policies of use.

While much
of the acceptable usage policy will follow on from the documents which have
already been created for your wired network, the nature of mobile devices is
such that it is likely to be worth updating them.  In particular, users will need to be reminded
of the security implications relating to the misuse of mobile devices.  If you intend to operate a Bring Your Own
Device (BYOD) environment, then it’s crucial that users understand clearly how
their personal devices will be integrated into the network and also that
although they may own the device, they do not own the data.

Check that your asset
management policy caters for mobile devices

It’s sad,
but probably true, to say that if you plan to hand out mobile devices to your
employees, unless they’re sure that these will be effectively tracked, at least
some of them will disappear.

Prepare self-service
support

Limit your
support calls by making sure there are plenty of self-help options readily
available in an obvious place.

Prepare for successful
deployment

If issuing
mobile devices, ensure that all devices are equipped with all necessary
software and correctly configured. 
Register them with the network provider and test each device before
handing it out to ensure it is working as intended.  When the users are given the devices, make
sure they are given training on how to use them.

Go live with pilot users

Monitor
their progress and if need be make adjustments before full roll out.






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