Small businesses demand flexibility on a budget, and while going wireless is on the technological cutting edge, it doesnt have to cut into your finances.
When contemplating a wireless move, the first decision youll need to make is where your employees will be spending most of their time. If you have an office, equipping it with a wireless network can be much less expensive than laying new wiring. For most tasks, the most popular standard, 802.11b, will be fine. Two faster wireless standards are now available; choose products based on 802.11g for the best compatibility with 802.11b gear.
Setting up a wireless access point is easy if you have DSL. Simply purchase a broadband router and connect it to your DSL line. If your office is very large, you may need a stronger antenna or a repeater from a company such as D-Link or Linksys. For now, these repeaters work only with the same brand of access point. Another caveat: Make sure security is configured properly on your access point so only your employees can access your files.
You can make most laptops wireless by adding a Wi-Fi PC Card from a company such as 3Com or Linksys. Any notebook computer with the “Centrino” label from Intel will also work on a Wi-Fi network. Furthermore, these notebooks will work at many hotels and other venues, such as certain Starbucks, Borders Books, and even a few McDonalds, that are adopting wireless network technology.
Of course, even todays thin-and-light laptops cant go everywhere. If your employees have wireless handhelds or data-enabled phones, they may be able to access essential communications tools such as e-mail. The easiest way to ensure this is to stick with open Internet standards such as POP3 and SMTP. There is a broad array of software that can allow Palm OS devices, Pocket PCs and even cell phones to connect to standard e-mail.
Also be careful when your employees choose their voice plans. Most consumer-level voice plans lure customers in with generous night and weekend packages. Assuming your employees will do most of their wireless work during the day, however, youll want to look into a plan that maximizes the number of weekday minutes. One carrier many businesses turn to is Nextel because of its Direct Connect feature, which allows you to communicate with co-workers instantly as if you were using walkie-talkies. Nextel is even in the process of rolling out the plan nationally, so youll be able to touch base with your colleagues any time.
Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin is a senior analyst at eMarketer. He has researched wireless communications since 1994 and has been covering technology since 1989.
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