Wireless networks (WLANs) have become more affordable and manageable since the introduction of the 11Mbps 802.11b standard (the 54 Mbps 802.11a standard and products should be mature enough for real world use by early 2003). The performance of the 802.11b solutions is similar to that offered by 10bt Ethernet networks; the 802.11a/g products offer bandwidth slightly lower than 100bt Fast Ethernet environments. The popularity of the 802.11 products is due to the interoperability, low cost and high performance of the current offerings.
For organizations with difficult to wire buildings or those who wish to allow their employees to work from anywhere in their facility, a wireless LAN can be an excellent solution.
There are a few issues to consider when deploying a wireless network:
- Security – the original WEP encryption is not very secure. SIA offers additional security measures such as routing your wireless traffic through a VPN.
- Configuration – the user laptops and desktops access the network via strategically placed Access Points (APs). The number and placement of the APs is critical in maximizing the range and bandwidth of the wireless signal. Also, each 802.11b AP has three usable frequencies with each frequency providing an independent channel. Each channel can be used individually or they can be grouped to provide a single, higher bandwidth channel.
- Interference – 802.11b/g LANs operate on the 2.4GHz frequency. Unfortunately, this frequency is also used by several consumer products like portable phones and even microwave ovens. Users should be aware of the interference issues (i.e. “If you are using your portable phone, you can temporarily lose your network connection. After you complete the call, your connection will be restored”). The newer and faster 802.11a LANs use the 5 MHz band which eliminates the common interference issues.
Wireless handhelds (PDAs) and laptops offer roaming workers and road warriors access to company data and applications from almost anywhere. While wireless LANs enable the delivery of data and applications throughout a company’s host facility, wireless PDAs and laptops offer access from most cities in the United States (as well as in Europe and Japan).
Another popular use for hand held devices allows technicians, warehouse workers and delivery drivers to send and receive short messages to and from a company server. Proprietary, turnkey solutions are often deployed in these situations. Finally, SIA can help you to deliver current applications over limited bandwidth connections using server-based technologies like Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services and Citrix’s Xen App/Desktop solutions (see the section on server-based computing).
New, high-speed mobile wireless networks are now available in every city of any size in the United States. The new offerings from Verizon and Sprint provide average bandwidth/speeds of 60-80 Kbps, bursting up to 144 Kbps. Compared to the 10-20 Kbps formerly available over the older CDPD network, these new networks are a real breakthrough for mobile Road Warriors. Mobile users can surf the Internet approximately 50-100% faster than over a dialup connection!
In addition to mobile Internet access, these wireless networks provide Citrix users with high-speed connections to their office networks from anywhere over any kind of client device. Mobile workers can access the applications and data on their office networks with the same speed and features as they experience while working in the office. Also, this approach eliminates the need to rewrite or “webify” applications in order to provide high speed wireless access.
The new mobile networks allow sales people, technicians and other field-based employees to check inventories, write POs and generally expedite the customer service process – all without having to drive back to the office to access the company network.
An example is the real estate sales person who wishes to check the Multiple Listings Service or Comparable Values while showing properties to prospects. Or a salesman who wishes to check inventory and cut an order while visiting a client. Or an attorney who needs to remotely (and securely) retrieve a legal document from his office computer. Or a technician who wishes to consult an equipment manual located on the company network. Or a field worker that wants to check freeway traffic before driving to his next stop. And of course, high speed access to email including large attachments.
These capabilities are all viable now thanks to the combination of the new wireless networks and server-based computing products from Citrix and Microsoft.