Wireless Communications

Wireless Network (WLAN)

What is WLAN?

  • A WLAN is a network without cables. Wireless networks can offer all the benefits of traditional cabled networking but without the constraints of miles of unruly cable and without confining users to working at a desk next to an Ethernet connection point.

  • WLAN-enabled laptops and handheld devices are connected anytime they are in a wireless network’s range. All you need to set up a WLAN is an access point, antennae and adapters for each PC, laptop and handheld device – though most laptops are wirelessly enabled without an external adapter.

  • You may have heard the term WiFi in connection with WLANs – often the two are assumed to be the same and you will probably read more in the press about WiFi than WLAN. In fact, WiFi is shot for Wireless Fidelity and refers to a set of industry standards (IEEE 802.11) that most WLANs are built to.

What can WLAN do?

  • WLAN enables workers to easily share a single business broadband connection across the office, and to remain online if they move their laptop/PDA around the wireless-enabled space.

  • WLANs can be used to easily extend network accessibility to areas where cabling might not be cost-effective or practical, for example from an office to its adjacent warehouse or storeroom, across retail outlets and hotels, or across public spaces such as health centres and job centres. Mechanics in a warehouse can access parts information via a handheld wirelessly-enabled PDA rather than continually crossing the floor to check a PC.

  • Wireless connectivity allows users to make more flexible and efficient use of space and to provide non-networked users with access to hardware, such as WLAN-enabled printers and peripherals.

  • WLAN ‘hotspots’ are wireless-enabled areas offering customers access to a broadband internet connection, usually for a usage fee.

Who is WLAN designed for?

  • The size of your business and premises will dictate your wireless needs. A WLAN access point or gateway serves as the central base station for your network. A typical WLAN access point can support some 15 to 20 users, so most small offices need only a single access point. A WLAN can cover up to 100m indoors and 300m outdoors. The range may vary based on the building or environment you’re using it in.

  • WLAN technology suits relatively stationary or slow-moving, but not desk-bound, users in a defined area, and opens up non-cabled areas of space away from the desk for working, for example ‘quiet rooms’ or extra meeting rooms. The application of WLAN technology in warehouses, for example barcode scanners, can be useful for many businesses.

  • With additional hardware (networking bridge) or linked hotspots, businesses that have separate locations up to a few miles apart can use a WLAN to network offices.

  • WLAN provides a good networking basis for users wanting to move to VoIP-type systems (Voice over Internet Protocol). Using VoWLAN (Voice over WLAN) technology, along with special handsets that look like phones, wireless networks an carry voice data in the same way that VoIP does, allowing a complete ‘hot desking’ scenario in the office.

Costs of WLAN

  • Setting up a WLAN requires an access point (or ‘base station’), antennae and an adapter for each PC, laptop or handheld that is to access the network. Many of the latter now come with WLAN adapters or cards built in, and adapters/cards are widely available for those that don’t. WLAN is easily and quickly installed and relatively cost-effective – around £315 for a small office network. If you have more space to cover, you may need more than one base station.

  • Costs for access to WLAN hotspots are currently from £5 to £15 per 24 hours, or from £20-£40 per month. Many WLAN hotspots are provided free for customers’ use, for example in cafés.

Pros and Cons of WLAN

  • Using WLAN-enabled devices in commercially developed ‘hotspots’ is more cost-effective, especially when compared to the cost of using mobile phone services to access the internet or to send and receive files. Devices include notebooks, PDAs and smartphones (mobile phones with PDA functionality).

  • Metal and other dense materials can affect the transmission of radio waves, and stone, brick, heavy woods and even water can also affect range. Test a system or get an expert opinion before choosing a WLAN if you want to link businesses in separate locations

  • You can improve the network’s range and performance by experimenting with the placement of the base station, antennas and receiving hardware such as laptop computers and PDAs. Setting up a ‘unidirectional’ antenna can narrow the overall beam width of your base station, providing much improved range.

  • WLANs need to be used in conjunction with robust security practices. Security is now built in to many of the best products.

  • WLAN, like wired networks, is a shared medium. Depending on conditions, a typical WLAN can provide up to 11Mbps of bandwidth shared between users. If ten users are simultaneously using the network, each may get only 1Mbps. Simply sending and receiving e-mail barely taxes the network, whilst a roomful of WLAN users accessing high-resolution files over a single access point may well result in a slowdown. To solve this problem, you could add in additional access points or upgrade to higher bandwidth WLAN.

  • Easy to install no cables to lay.

  • Adding new users to a wireless network or moving desk locations within the network range does not require costly changes to the network infrastructure.

Wireless Communications business advice article: Crown Copyright © 2004-2013

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