Wireless networks

Router on a desk - Wireless networks.Wireless technology is convenient, cheap and is built into virtually every new smart phone, tablet and laptop computer on the market. Many businesses use wireless networks either alongside traditional wired networks or as an alternative to them

With use of mobile devices widespread, the arguments for having a wireless network are strong for most businesses.

The cost of creating a wireless network can be low (especially in small offices), yet the payoff in terms of convenience, productivity and flexibility is large.

What are wireless networks?

Wireless networks do the same thing as any other computer network: they link together computers and other devices so you can share files, access the internet and use centralised applications.

The difference is that while traditional networks use physical cables to link computers together, wireless networks use radio waves.

The technology used in a wireless connection is usually referred to as ‘Wi-Fi’ or simply ‘wireless’. It’s similar to the signals used in mobile phones and allows for the transfer of data between devices without any cables.

Using a wireless connection

There are a number of benefits to setting up a wireless network in your business:

  • They’re cheap and easy to set up. You can set up a simple wireless network for less than £100, without help from an IT expert.
  • They’re easier to expand. Adding extra computers to a wireless network doesn’t involve extra cables or network points.
  • You get extra flexibility. You can access the network in meeting rooms, break out areas – and perhaps outside your building.

However, although wireless networks are easy to set up, they have a few drawbacks which mean they’re most often used alongside a wired network:

  • Speed. Although wireless networks are fast enough for most uses, they are generally slower than wired networks, which are better for transferring large files.
  • Reliability. Although generally dependable, wireless network interference can slow or break the connection – usually at the most inconvenient times!
  • Security. You can take steps to secure your wireless network, but because the signal will bleed outside your premises, a wired network will always be more secure.

Wireless networks are particularly useful in situations where running cables would be difficult, or where you want extra flexibility – perhaps to offer a network connection to visitors or in your meeting rooms.

Does every business need wireless?

Wi-Fi is everywhere in our town centres and High Streets.

And Ian Kilpatrick, chairman of Wick Hill Group, reckons businesses need to implement wireless to meet staff expectations:

"Wireless is more cost-effective, more convenient, less disruptive, encourages productivity – and users want it."

Set up a wireless network

You need two essential pieces of wireless equipment to set up a wireless network:

  • A wireless access point. This piece of hardware is the central point of your wireless network. All your wireless devices (laptops, etc) connect to it. Basic access points cost less than £40.
  • Wireless devices. These can be laptops, smart phones, tablet computers, or any other piece of equipment which is able to connect to wireless networks.
  • Every laptop, smart phone and tablet made in the last few years will have wireless networking built in.
  • You can add wireless capabilities to desktop computers by purchasing an adaptor for £20 or so.

There are several different speeds of wireless network, each with a different, hard-to-remember name (802.11g, 802.11n and 802.11ac are the most common). You don’t need to worry about this too much, as devices which run at different speeds should work together. Just opt for the fastest you can afford – at present, that’s 802.11ac.

If your business already has a wired network, you can usually plug your wireless access point straight into it. Position the access point so the signal covers the areas and devices you want it to.

Once it’s set up, take some key security precautions. Enable encryption so it’s harder for people to intercept information being sent across your network. Also consider hiding the network so it doesn’t show up when people scan for wireless networks.

Many wireless access points will offer a step-by-step guide to help you get set up. However, it’s worth contacting your IT supplier for assistance with more complicated set ups – particularly those involving several access points or large premises.

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