Wired no more Featured

11:34am EDT November 20, 2003
Productivity is usually tied to technology in one way or another in today's world, sometimes literally.

You are tied to your network and the vital data it holds by a small cord that plugs into the wall somewhere in the office. But what if you want to meet with three of your colleagues while all of you access the database to discuss sales leads?

Sorry. One office, one port, one data stream.

Wouldn't it be better if you could just plop down anywhere in the office with whomever you wanted, flip on the laptop and start collaborating rather than arm wrestling for the right to the one data port in the conference room?

Wireless networks make this possible. Data flows freely wherever you are in the office, and everyone has access to it.

"Wireless networks are well-suited for a variety of environments," says Giles Manias, vice president of Paragon Data Systems Inc., a Cleveland-based company specializing in data collection and wireless networks. "This is especially true in any new environment. Any time you are building a new space, you will definitely want to take a look at wireless."

Retrofitting an existing space isn't difficult.

"If you already have a wired LAN in place, it is just a matter of adding wireless access points to create clouds of coverage," says Manias. "It's a very good time to get into wireless. Prices are becoming more affordable, and the technology is a safer investment than it was two years ago."

Larger spaces may require a site survey, in which tests are run on data rates and connectivity in various areas. Certain materials can cause signals to reflect or be absorbed, and too many data points can interfere with each other, so the tests help determine the best coverage points.

"Wireless networks are great for areas where there is a lot of laptop use, such as sales reps who want to bring data with them to meetings or transfer files," says Manias. "It's also well-suited to areas like warehouses. You can have a dynamic warehouse that, rather than running wires for PCs or printers, you put in a wireless card in the devices. It gives the users mobility, and you don't have to run new wires if you change your layout.

"It offers managers or sales reps out on the shop floor to see what's going on with PC in hand. It can bring computing to the point it's needed rather than someone having to run back and forth to a workstation."

Wireless networks can also be an advantage for companies that host tradeshows, user groups or hospitality-type functions where mobility may be important, as well as companies that plan on adding personnel.

Despite its mobile advantages, wireless networks are not for everyone.

"It doesn't make sense for an engineering firm or someone who uses large files," says Manias. "It is limited in bandwidth and will slow the transfer of large files."

Once you choose wireless, make sure all concerns are addressed by a reputable firm.

"If a company doesn't have a large enough IT staff that is familiar with it, then make sure you work with an integrator and not just a box mover," says Manias.

Security is also an issue.

"A wireless network can be just as secure as a wired one," says Manias, who notes that any wireless network will also have some wired components. "There are always security issues with every medium. The key is knowing and addressing 99 percent of them. It's like a car. If you lock your doors and roll up your windows, it's just easier for the car thief to move on to the next opportunity.

"If it's for a doctor or lawyer who has sensitive information, it's important to make sure you are working with someone who knows what they are doing. Just because they buy equipment that has security options doesn't mean they are implemented correctly." How to reach: Paragon Data Systems, (800) 211-0768