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The wireless office

A faster, cheaper way to get networked

Quote�If you don't already have a cable network, there are good reasons to jump straight to wireless.�End Quote

Linking up office computers in a network makes a lot of sense. You can share broadband internet access, pool printers and fax machines and share files. The traditional headache has been the cables.

Structured cabling, as it is known, works on a hub and spoke principle. You need one cable for every computer, and they all run to a central switchboard. The cable isn't cheap, and you have a choice of paying someone to install it neatly, or having loose cables running all over the floor.

The neater, and probably more cost-effective alternative is wireless networking using the Wi-Fi standard. It replaces the cables with a radio link. Each computer has a wireless network card, and they all link to a central access point which connects to the internet and the rest of the (wired) world.

Think of it is a cellular network for data. It uses similar technology to digital cordless phones and has a similar range. In the open air, you can connect over several hundred feet, but the range is reduced by brick walls and other obstructions. This means you may need more than one access point to cover a larger office.


If you don't already have a cable network, there are plenty of good reasons to jump straight to wireless - even if your office only has desktop PCs.

Flexibility. You can add new computers or move them from desk to desk without running any new cables.

Price. The cost of wireless network cards is generally less than the cost of structured cabling to provide each user with a conventional cable connection.

Mobility. The same network card that connects your laptop in the office also works at home, if you have a wireless network there, or with public hotspots in places like cafes and airports (although you may have to pay to connect to them).

Go walkabout. You can take your wireless-enabled laptop with you as you move about the building, and still remain connected. If you've ever been unable to connect to the web from a meeting room, you'll appreciate the value of this.

Cut and run. If you move offices, you don't have to leave behind an expensive cable installation. All the wireless kit comes with you to the new site.

Quote�Be careful. Talk to security experts about wireless networks and they shudder.�End Quote

But be careful. Talk to security experts about wireless networks and they shudder. Without precautions it's easy to leave a wireless network open to freeloaders and hackers - happily it's not difficult to make them secure. Another drawback is that they are generally not as fast as a cabled network - but for most business applications, you're unlikely to notice the difference.

Typical access points, laptop and desktop wireless cards all come in under �50. You'll need one card per computer and a varying number of access points depending on the number of users and the configuration of your building.

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What next?

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Do you already have a wireless network? Our security expert Matthew Stibbe shows you how to keep it secure.

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