Wi-Fi Wireless Growth

Annabel Dodd

Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) service enables staff to access the Internet and local networks wirelessly within organizations. Improvements in technology and security, increased use of laptops, savings in cabling and the desire for portability within the workplace is fueling the growing adoption of Wi-Fi.

Affordability and standards
Wi-Fi owes much of its popularity to the fact that it’s based on the widely adopted 802.11 standards. Adoption of these standards resulted in decreased manufacturing costs and affordable prices. It is the key reason Wi-Fi became the first wireless service to be widely used first in homes and then within schools and businesses.

Savings on cabling in common areas
Wi-Fi provides mobility in common areas such as classrooms, conference rooms and cafeterias. Many large corporations blanket all of their locations with Wi-Fi coverage so that mobile employees and visitors can access the Internet anywhere in their buildings. At universities, students assume they will have Wi-Fi access throughout the campus.

Savings on cabling and hardware
Wireless networks save money on new cabling. For example, rather than add multiple cables in classrooms, conference rooms and training rooms, organizations deploy Wi-Fi. In addition, less hardware is needed, as each Wi-Fi connected computer does not require a physical connection in the switch located in the nearest data closet.

Because signals travel through the air, rather than in enclosed cabling, all wireless services are more vulnerable to hackers than wired services. For example, in wired networks, administrators can trace hackers to certain ports and shut down that port. It’s more difficult to trace a hacker’s path into the network in wireless services. In addition, it’s hard to confine signals to buildings or prevent them from reaching offices of other organizations in the same building making it easier for outsiders to access networks.

Security precautions
New software and hardware devices have improved security. For example, intrusion protection systems now detect unauthorized, rogue access points (antennas) and send commands that effectively shut them down. Also, Wi-Fi controllers such as ones offered by Cisco encrypt signals and authenticate users on Wi-Fi networks. However, managing and deploying Wi-Fi security requires IT expertise and resources for regular audits.

In the future - Cellular Wi-Fi convergence
To improve cellular coverage inside buildings, AT&T (the former Cingular) and T-Mobile are testing cellphones that operate on Wi-Fi networks. This would enable employees to publish one telephone number and lower cellular fees for calls to cellular numbers, which are received within organizations’ Wi-Fi networks or at hotspots.

A caution about voice on Wi-Fi networks
Wi-Fi was developed for data. Acceptable voice quality depends on adequate capacity and software that can prioritize voice so that delays are eliminated. Currently, most Wi-Fi networks don’t have both these capabilities.

Will wired networks become obsolete?
In the near future, growing requirements for capacity for voice and video and distrust of security preclude the elimination of wired networks within organizations. However, increasing use of laptops, expectations of mobility, improvements in standards, and decreasing costs of wireless connections will lead to a continuing expansion of Wi-Fi networks.

Annabelle Dodd is author of The Essential Guide to Telecommunications.
Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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