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The wacky world of WiFi

James E. Gaskin | Sept. 2, 2009
In honor of the 802.11n WiFi standard getting close to arriving after wandering through the desert for 40 years, let's look at wireless. Our focus today is on helping you WiFi better, even if it means doing less WiFi.

FRAMINGHAM, 2 SEPTEMBER 2009 - In honor of the 802.11n WiFi standard getting close to arriving after wandering through the desert for 40 years, let's look at wireless. Our focus today is on helping you WiFi better, even if it means doing less WiFi.

You're forgiven if you thought 802.11n, the latest tag on wireless routers, was already an official standard. Not yet, although the WiFi manufacturers got so tired of waiting for the 802.11n group they created their own “draft standard” and coerced different vendors to work together on a pre-standard standard.

WiFi standards have always been wonky. First came 802.11b, then 802.11a, then 802.11g, and now, years later, 802.11n. This only proves WiFi committee members don't know shinola about the alphabet. (WiMAX, the 802.16 wireless family, will be ignored for now, because we're talking about WiFi support inside your business, not for long distances outside.)

My first guideline for WiFi implementations for small businesses is don't WiFi if you can avoid it. Wireless connections are always slower and less secure than wired connections. Automatically eliminate the idea of WiFi for all desktop computers and laptops purchased as desktop replacements. If your laptop has a docking station, it should use a wired connection just like the desktop computer it replaced.

Of course that will upset the WiFiFanatics because they want to carry laptops to meetings for “increased productivity.” In every group meeting I've been in this last year, half the people with open laptops have been checking e-mail and Facebook during the meeting. That's not productive, it's destructive. Even when companies pay me to be in meetings, I want the meetings to be as short as possible. WiFi in the meeting room just enables some attendees to entertain themselves instead of participating in the meeting. I wish I had one of those WiFi blocking devices for the next meeting I have to go to.

Now the productivity experts are upset. WiFiFanatics spout the productivity mantra at every opportunity, yet I've never seen hard numbers on how WiFi access in the company restrooms helps the company make more money. I'm not sure checking Facebook while walking around with your laptop is productivity the company will appreciate.

Devices that stay put don't need wireless. The Epson WorkForce 600 multi-function printer I've been testing has wireless support, but I'm not sure why. Who carries a printer around? How does that help productivity?

 

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