The Wireless Office: Getting It Right

PC Magazine evaluates enterprise-class WLAN products.

Though the mainstream corporate world is dotted with wireless networks, in general its adoption rate of wireless here has lagged behind that of other environments. According to Synergy Research Group, total worldwide sales of home and small-office wireless LAN products in 2003 topped $1.3 billion (about 60 percent of the market), while enterprise wireless sales came in at less than $900 million.

The sharp decline in IT spending in 2002 and 2003 accounted for some of the disparity between business and home product sales, but other factors are also at work. Three major concerns holding back business WLAN adoption are security, investment protection, and lack of wireless IT expertise.

Security has been a nagging issue because until this year, WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) was the only encryption mechanism built into the 802.11 specification and available in all products. Rolling out even this fundamentally flawed security protocol often required significant effort and IT staff overhead. To have truly secure wireless meant the added burden and expense of implementing traditional technologies, such as VPNs and SSL-authenticated Web portals.

The concern over investment protection is a common one with emerging technologies. An ever-changing alphabet soup of wireless standards and the resulting avalanche of products have made it difficult for IT managers to trust that any particular solution will hang around for too long.

Finally, many corporate IT departments do not have the technical expertise to install a WLAN solution. They lack experience with choosing the right technology, designing site plans for their networks, deploying and managing equipment, and monitoring performance.

Fortunately, the landscape has evolved dramatically in the past year. Wireless security has taken several giant steps forward with the adoption of WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and the recent ratification of 802.11i (more on that to come). And improved 802.11 standards that are scalable as well as backward-compatible make the deployment of WLANs much more feasible.

PC Magazine recently took a look at enterprise-class wireless products. In this article, they cover all the necessary steps to set up a wireless network—from pre-purchase planning to ongoing WLAN management—and review four capable business-class access points.


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