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How to set up your business' wireless network.

What are some of the first things I should and shouldn't do when planning for a wireless network in my business? Is trial-and-error a good way to map to a wireless network?

What are some of the first things I should and shouldn't do when planning for a wireless network in my business? Is trial-and-error a good way to map to a wireless network?
One of the first things you should do is decide just what you want to accomplish with a wireless system; whether it is providing mobile and wireless access for you and your employees, or convenient guest access for customers and business associates.

If you want to build an internal wireless network for use by your employees, and not for outsiders, then you will have to put more thought and planning into security and the logistics of connecting it back to your wired network. This means developing ID and authentication procedures, creating a well-defined user policy set of rules, creating a user training program and adapting your internal firewall for wireless access.

You may also want to install strong management and control software, which notifies you if someone is using the network without authorization or maybe using a wireless laptop in a restricted area. This may seem a little too progressive, but better safe than sorry when you consider how easily a notebook computer can be used to suck confidential data out of a database (as our friends at the Veterans Administration recently discovered).

I would also develop a system that allows frequent audits of your wireless network to pinpoint problems inside and outside your office or building. And by frequent, I mean more than once a month or once a week. Think daily or hourly here!

If your wireless thoughts lean more towards convenience for the general public, then you won't be connecting your wireless net to your wired world -- at least if you are smart. Rather, you will develop a system that automatically brings users to a log-in page that clearly states what can and what cannot be done while using this gateway. Entering an e-mail address is usually required as an acknowledgement of these public-use policies. Then, I would work with a network gateway provider who has software that can lock users out of specific Websites or types of sites (such as pornography), or restricts access to a pre-selected list of approved sites.

A lot of hospitals are installing public WLANs as a courtesy and to attract Type-A executives who just cannot take the time to unplug from their e-mails for that necessary surgery. However, most of these systems are designed to restrict access to certain Websites because they may offend people who pass by a room or public area.

As for "trial and error," a lot of companies do this instead of using tools to perform site surveys and map out the position of wireless access points (APs). I know of at least one insurance company that actually had an employee walk around with an AP installed in one of those acoustic ceiling tiles. It was something right out of Monty Python. My advice: spend a few bucks and get someone to perform a legitimate site survey and analysis -- especially if you are installing pre-MIMO equipment. It will cost you less in the long run and result in less security and reliability headaches.

This was last published in June 2006

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