Build a Wireless Network in Four Easy Steps
A wireless LAN is cost-effective, scales easily, and gives users freedom for increased productivity
Today, many small businesses don’t even bother running network cables throughout their office space. Instead of wiring a network jack for every computer on the network, companies simply install a few additional pieces of wireless networking gear to provide ubiquitous wireless connectivity. After the basic network is in place, namely the switch and the router, it’s a matter of taking four basic steps to build a wireless local area network (WLAN) to connect your users to the Internet.
A wireless network offers many benefits to the small business. It’s easier to set up and access than a wired network, and it scales more simply and quickly when adding new users. Wireless LANs also give employees more flexibility to stay online while moving throughout the office, and guest users can connect to the Internet immediately with just a password. Choosing the best wireless LAN solutions for your business is key to building the right network.
The first step to building a WLAN is choosing a wireless router. Like any router, a wireless model connects your local network to the Internet and allows all of your users to share a single Internet connection, but it does so via a radio signal instead of a cable. Look for a wireless router that supports the wireless-N standard, also called 802.11n. It provides more bandwidth and better Wi-Fi coverage than older wireless standards (802.11a/b/g) for better reception and roaming. Wireless-N is the best choice if you plan to use your network to make Voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls. Make sure all of the other gear on your wireless network supports the same wireless standard.
Second, determine if you also need wireless access points (WAPs) to extend the wireless router’s signal range and strength. In general, most wireless routers’ signals travel about 300 feet, depending on any obstacles in your office like walls or tall furniture. All but the smallest business is likely to need at least one WAP. Even if your wireless router providers enough coverage, a WAP also offers security features.
In general, plan on also installing WAPs if your office is more than 600 feet across or if you want the wireless network to cross rooms or go through floors. Ideally, your office space will be fully blanketed with wireless coverage, so users can stay connected no matter where they are. Use a laptop to determine where your Wi-Fi coverage falters—simply walking through your office with an eye on your laptop’s connection can help you figure out where you need additional WAPs to get rid of dead spots.
Third, you must ensure that all of your laptops and PCs have Wi-Fi adapters. If you chose an 802.11n wireless router, all of the clients on your wireless LAN should have 802.11n wireless adapters for maximum speed and performance. Two older standards, 802.11b/g, are compatible with 802.11n, so you don’t necessarily need to upgrade older computers if they meet the needs of your employees.
Finally, you must secure your wireless network. Unlike a wired network, a wireless LAN is open to the public if you don’t lock it down. You don’t want your network turned into a hotspot like you find at Starbucks. Many wireless routers include network security features, including a firewall and a virtual private network (VPN). For maximum security, choose one that also offers intrusion prevention and content filtering.
WAPs offer security features, too, to help control who can jump onto your wireless network, including data encryption, access control lists (ACLs), and address filtering. You can also use WAPs to create virtual LANs (VLANs) to segment access for guest users [[http://blogs.cisco.com/smallbusiness/3-ways-to-secure-guest-access-to-your-small-business-network/]] and also protect you network resources and assets on your wireless LAN. This is a safe way to allow guests to use your Internet connection without giving them an all-access pass to your network.
If building a wireless network is more than you have the time or in-house expertise to handle, tap into the knowledge of a local Cisco reseller. A Cisco certified partner can help you choose the right wireless gear for your small business as well as install it on your network.
A wireless network simplifies connecting employees to the Internet while giving them more flexibility to work the way they need to, on any wireless device, from anywhere in the office. Because you don’t have to string cables in a wireless network, installation is quick and it allows you to easily expand you wired network and add new users.
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