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Guide to setting up a WLAN
A WLAN is a local area network (LAN) without cables. An LAN is a data network that connects computers together, allowing them to share data and access the internet. If an LAN is wireless, the users can move their computers around while staying connected.
Most commonly, WLANs can provide access to WLAN-enabled devices within a radius of 65 to 300 ft. The 802.11 standard, which most WLANs are built to, can reach data transfer speeds of 300 to 600 Mbps.
To set up a WLAN you will need an access point which allows devices to communicate with each other, and adaptors for all your WLAN-enabled devices. These include laptops, PCs and handheld devices.
Benefits of using a WLAN
- Wireless LANs have a number of advantages over wired LANs. Some of the business benefits are:
- Cost – wireless networks can be cheaper and easier to install, because they do not require cables to be pulled through walls.
- Flexibility – it is easier to add or move workstations, and means workers do not have to stay sitting at dedicated computers.
- Coverage – wireless technology means users can always stay in touch, even while on the move, without the use of extra cables or adapters.
Disadvantages of using a WLAN
- Speed – data transfer rates can decrease as the number of devices using the WLAN increases.
- Security – Wireless networks are not as secure as wired ones because they are easier for unauthorised users to access. This need not be an issue however, as long as you protect the network with secure passwords.
- Coverage – Due to the materials used in buildings, there may be wireless ‘blackspots’ in certain areas. For example, it is difficult for radio transmissions to pass through steel reinforcing. Obstacles, such as heavy furniture, can also impact the strength of a wireless signal.
What do you want from your wireless network?
Before settling on a wireless network solution, you should ask yourself what the requirements of your business are.
- How many people will be using the network?
- Do you have staff that require mobility beyond the premises?
- Can you use the technology to improve the efficiency of your business?
- What do you want to achieve from the WLAN? Cost savings? Increased efficiency? Greater flexibility?
- How much damage could be done if the security of your network was breached?
Securing a wireless network
Security is a key issue when it comes to WLANs. Wireless networks are easier for unauthorised users to access, because their range can often extend beyond the walls of your premises.
Once your wireless network is set up, you will usually be provided with a web-based configuration program which you will use for configuring the wireless access point. You can use this to secure your wireless network. Make sure you:
- Ensure access to the WLAN is protected by a password
- Change the SSID to a different name than the default. The default name is usually something like ‘wireless’, ‘netgear’ or ‘linksys’, but renaming it to something unique will improve the security of the network.
- Use MAC address filtering. This means that only MAC addresses that have been registered with the wireless access points can gain access to the network. The MAC address of a network card is usually located on the device itself.
Rolling out the network
Once you have decided to go ahead with implementing a WLAN, then you will need to take a number of things into consideration to ensure the process goes smoothly.
- Identify which staff members will be impacted and make a plan to train them. You will need to show them how to use the new technology, and outline any changes to working patterns that the new system will allow, for example home working.
- Ensure that you, or somebody in your business, has the expertise to manage a wireless local area network.
- Talk to your staff and encourage feedback. You may wish to appoint somebody to manage the implementation process.