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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.

That said, your WiFi world will change when 802.11n actually arrives. If you're still using the same WiFi routers and access points you bought five or more years ago, an upgrade is in your future. Five year old WiFi, especially if your access point is bundled inside your primary router, needs to be updated for security reasons. You'll also appreciate the performance boost of newer WiFi hardware.

My second guideline for better WiFi is to use equipment from the same vendor for all your wireless needs. Smaller companies can get by with a single router or wireless access point, so vendor compatibility isn't an issue. When you expand and need a second access point, buy from the same vendor. If that vendor has disappeared, buy two new access points from a single vendor. It's time to update your wireless if your vendor has had time to go out of business since your installation.

Third, the easiest way to improve your WiFi is to upgrade the antennas on your routers and access points. You can even get longer antennas for consumer wireless hardware, and they're worth the money. The better your antenna, the better your reception. Better reception means faster throughput and fewer access points.

Ask your wireless supplier about a Yagi antenna if your physical location is an unusual shape. Yagi antennas add distance by directing signals where you point them. Have a long, spaghetti shaped warehouse? One access point with a Yagi antenna may do a better job than two or three omni-directional access points. You save money on access points, and better control where your wireless signals go. Signals that go outside your building made it much easier for hackers to attack.

Fourth, you no longer need to worry about lobby wireless networks, or guest networks for visitors. When WiFi became popular, vendors pushed a second network, separate from your internal network, for visitors as they waited in the lobby or in meeting areas. Today, road warriors will have 3G Mobile Broadband support, so you can drop the cost and complexity of a lobby network.

Finally, define your security measures during your WiFi planning, not after, because WiFi demands stricter internal security. Plans that focus on a strong firewall and protections at your router don't stop intruders that float through the walls on your WiFi signals. With WiFi as a major portion of your network, individual computer protection becomes mandatory.


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