Wireless technology: Five myths debunked

Cisco, along with Forrester Research, recently issued a report calling most wireless LAN fears mere myths, and a campus-wide, all-wireless deployment appears to prove that theory.

You've heard it all before. Over the past several years, wireless LANs have been called everything from insecure

and unnecessary to too expensive and difficult to support.

For a while, many thought that was true. Heck, some still do.

But Cisco, along with the folks at Forrester Research and Intel, wants to dispel those wireless fears. Recently, the trio of industry big dogs released a report listing the five biggest wireless myths, putting an end to many a wireless fear and heralding a new era of a hey-it's-OK-to-go-wireless attitude.

The myths are:

  • Wireless networks provide limited benefits when compared with wired networks;
  • Wireless networks are not secure;
  • Wireless networks are complex to deploy and support;
  • Wireless networks are immature; and
  • Wireless provides no business value beyond mobile data.

Ben Gibson, marketing director with Cisco, said those beliefs are just not true, and though many companies in the U.S. are starting to come around, a great many still are not.

"There's a disconnect between where 802.11 technology is and what the perceptions are of wireless technology," Gibson said. "A lot of people still say, 'I haven't deployed it yet because it's not secure.'"

Gibson said the elimination of WEP and the use of WPA2 support for encryption has made wireless networks as secure as their wired Ethernet counterparts. Still, he said, many companies need to move past the market misconception where they're slammed with products to help lock down the wireless network, despite its already reasonable level of security.

Gibson added that wireless networks are becoming a more beneficial business tool, with companies finding wireless applications that have key business uses beyond just mobility and productivity.

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Some of those applications include voice and presence technologies that not only allow for faster and simpler communication but also help locate users on the network.

In the past, the WLAN was a pure overlay network -- there was wired and wireless. According to Gibson, that was keeping organizations from deploying more pervasive wireless. Many companies were keeping their WLAN deployments minimal on the assumption that it was too complex to deploy and manage.

"The architectures have become easier and more reliable," Gibson said. Separate security and management platforms were once needed for wireless and wired networks, he said, but that was the last hurdle to overcome. Being able to handle both wired and wireless with one set of tools has proven that the technology has matured.

At Jones Farm, an Intel campus nestled in Oregon, they've taken to heart the notion that wireless networks are no longer the cumbersome, troublesome and insecure beasts of the past. The campus is one of many that have gone all-wireless, meaning that although there is still a wired network, the entire campus is wireless-ready and the majority of tasks can be performed wirelessly.

Brian Tucker, digital enterprise manager with Intel, said that the Jones Farm campus, which typically houses 5,000 to 6,000 employees, has been completely wireless for the past few years. So far, he said, there have been no major hang-ups.

Before the Jones Farm campus went fully wireless, however, there was some apprehension.

"It was considered a secondary overlay and not considered mission critical," Tucker said of the wireless network in its early stages. "But Jones Farm showed us we can build a wireless network that is mission critical. We can architect a wireless network to be as stable and reliable as our wired network. We can rely on it."

One hurdle the Jones Farm team had to overcome was the thought that a wireless network brought very little business value aside from mobility. Tucker said that after some convincing, "We were confident in the value it brought our workers." Intel had been using some WLAN technology internally, so it wasn't a stretch to deploy it campus wide.

As for security, that was never a real fear, he said. "The standards are there. They're mature. They're proven. When it's implemented right, it can be just as secure."

Tucker said that companies should focus on educating themselves and finding out more about wireless networks before dismissing the technology and buying into the myths.

"The more information they have and the more they know, the more they'll understand that -- when done right -- a wireless network can actually save money and isn't all that complex," Tucker said. "It's a lack of knowledge that seems to be the biggest thing driving apprehension when it comes to wireless networks."

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