How to build a wireless network - checklist

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Wireless technology is fast and reliable enough to replace a traditional wired network in most circumstances. However, most companies use wireless to add flexibility to an existing network.

  • Think before you leap. You can purchase a wireless access point for under £50 and connect it to your network in moments. However, while this may work well to begin with, it can quickly lead to capacity, coverage and security issues. It doesn't take long to plan a network and check the implications with your IT supplier.
  • Consider your office space. A standard wireless access point can sometimes reach devices 40 metres away, but local circumstances can affect the range a lot. Thick walls, ceilings and metal obstacles can significantly reduce the range. Using several access points provides more reliable coverage and capacity for more devices.
  • Your wireless network's configuration will depend on your business needs. Consider how many more people need access, both now and in the future. People tend to use wireless when away from their desks, so if you have a casual working environment then usage may be higher.
  • Count the number of devices. The explosion in smartphones and tablets means people often use two or more wireless devices at work. Each access point can only handle a certain number of connections at once, so you need to make sure you have capacity for everyone.
  • Wireless equipment consists of two main components: wireless-enabled devices and wireless access points. If you already have a wired network, you usually just need access points to plug into it.
  • You can build a wireless network yourself, by following the instructions that come with your equipment. These will explain how to connect access points, turn them on and set them up. Wireless access points need to be located where they can provide good coverage, but also near network and power points.
  • There are several different ways to secure your network from unauthorised access. Most wireless access points support Media Access Control (MAC) filtering, which will only allow access to known wireless devices. You can also set up encryption, which requires a password to access the network.
  • Always test your new wireless network before opening it up for general use. Basic test software like the free NetStumbler will tell you if data is being sent correctly, analyse network speed and signal strength.
  • With wireless device use still growing fast, make sure you can add capacity to your network when necessary. It may be worth spending a bit extra for faster, higher-capacity access points now.
  • Although wireless generally works very well, problems tend to be unpredictable and tricky to solve. For instance, identifying the cause of interference can be hard. If possible, seek advice from your IT support company when planning and implementing your network.

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