Nothing could be easier than setting up a wireless network: You drop by the local big box electronics retailer, buy a $60 wireless router and plug it into any free Ethernet drop in your office. Voila!
Not so fast. "You can set up a wireless network at home like that, but not in the enterprise," Forrester Research analyst Ellen Daley says. "These are networks, they need to be planned and designed. That takes time, but once everything is planned and designed you can set it up in ten minutes."
The ease of deploying wireless is one of the technology's main attractions, but it is in constant tension with both the reality of enterprise networking and the other, more significant benefits of the technology. "Wireless networking has a broad appeal in most industries, but it goes particularly deep in some verticals, like health care, manufacturing and retail," Daley says. "The perceived benefits are improved communication, productivity and accuracy in manufacturing, as well as time-saving."
With the increasing tide of enterprise voice over IP (VoIP), the wireless local area network (WLAN) has acquired even more appeal. It has provided the rationale for those $700 dual-mode voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) phones which, conversely, have justified the investment in Wi-Fi. "In carpeted offices, there's a perception that people are using their cell phones to make business calls while they walk through the halls," Daley says. "Companies have VoIP, and they either have or are thinking about Wi-Fi, so why not combine them? There's a pent-up demand."
In fact, how a company plans to use Wi-Fi will ultimately determine how it will deploy it. And working that out is the first step in a successful deployment. "You have to get your strategy down," Daley says. "How dependent are you going to be on this network? What's you're five-year strategy, and do you want to integrate the WLAN with your wired network? The answer is usually yes."
This is particularly critical when it comes to security, since network integration often implies security and access integration. Consequently, a major question will be whether the WLAN will sit in a DMZ. "Over-air encryption is there, so you don't have to worry about it," Daley says. "But you do have to define how you will do security for the WLAN and for the network as a whole. There are new standards out there, but no one's using them right now, so this is something you have to think about."