Wireless networking Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Wireless networking has come a long way in a short amount of time. It used to be that the only time people thought about wireless networking was in reference to a laptop computer.

Today, wireless technology involves anything that has to do with the ability to connect to network resources without the use of cables. It’s no longer limited to people wanting to be able to check their e-mail from a conference room or to access the Internet from a hotel.

“Part of my job is to introduce alternative ways to utilize a wireless network to increase productivity and efficiency of users in any kind of enterprise or vertical market,” says Josh Zenner, wireless solution specialist for Berbee Information Networks Corp.

Smart Business asked Zenner how wireless networking has become more prevalent in today’s business world.

How has wireless networking grown in recent years?

There are a multitude of ways to leverage a wireless network to increase productivity. Voice is an excellent example. With a wireless Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone, employees can take their desk extension anywhere with them throughout a facility or between office locations. This makes them accessible 100 percent of the time, instead of only the times they are at their desks.

Here at Berbee, I can take a wireless phone into any one of our offices throughout the Midwest and be automatically connected to the network with my extension, no matter which office I’m in.

Another example is video. We can put wireless security cameras in a part of a school that’s been plagued by vandalism. In the old days, we were required to hardwire each security camera with coaxial cables. Today, as long as that area is covered by the wireless network, we can put up a wireless security camera and be able to monitor multiple areas of the building without ever having to pull a cable.

We can also use a wireless network for location services and asset tracking. Once a facility has Wi-Fi coverage, we can track any device with an 802.11 network card in it. A hospital can track laptops, infusion pumps, phones — anything with a wireless network card. Or an RFID tag can be attached to a device that doesn’t have a card and be tracked, too. If tags are put on a fleet of wheelchairs, the hospital could know where those chairs are at all times, anywhere in the facility. Knowing the location of assets like wheelchairs and infusion pumps in a hospital greatly decreases the time staff spends looking for those devices, allowing them to dedicate more time to patient care.

The addition of these advanced services has definitely triggered much of the growth we’ve seen in wireless networking.

When did wireless become more popular?

Things started to take off in the late ’90s when it became more standardized. The retail industry was the first to adopt it with handheld bar code scanners. There was a need to have real-time access to inventory information at all times. Then we saw it become more prevalent in the health care industry. Hospitals could give their nurses and doctors wireless tablets that provided real-time access to patient information without having to rely on paper charts.

People talk about wireless security as being an issue. Think about it. In the past, anyone could walk into a room and look at someone’s paper chart and have access to all of that patient’s medical information. But when a user name and password are required to log onto a tablet PC, that sensitive information is much more secure.

Since then, wireless networks have become increasingly popular. Now that laptop sales have surpassed desktop PC sales — and nearly all laptops come with an integrated wireless network card — people have come to expect wireless access everywhere they go.

How secure is wireless?

Wireless had a bad rap when it came to security, when actually it should be just the opposite.

When you implement a pervasive wireless network in a facility, you have a view into the wireless airspace in that environment. This is extremely important when it comes to things like rogue access points. All too often, employees attach their own access points into the network in an attempt to be more productive. While they’re not intentionally being malicious, they don’t have security on the access points and are essentially broadcasting a network connection outside the building. With the right network equipment, we can identify potential threats and mitigate them before they become a security risk. So companies with wireless are more secure than those without because they can keep an eye on what is happening in their airspace.

JOSH ZENNER is a wireless solution specialist for Berbee Information Networks Corp. Reach him at (715) 241-4412 or josh.zenner@berbee.com.