Dynamic Business Logo
Home Button
Bookmark Button

Wireless technology can boost productivity and drive innovative business, but you need to sift through the options before taking the plunge. Angus Kidman explains how wireless technology can benefit your business.

Active ImageIt doesn’t require much imagination to see why the notion of wireless technology appeals to so many businesses. No more workstations surrounded by a tangle of cables, no more figuring out if plug A fits socket B, the ability to work (almost) regardless of location and still access crucial business resources such as email and the internet. But how do you make that vision a reality?

The label ‘wireless’ actually covers quite a diverse range of technologies, including wireless networking, high-bandwidth mobile phones, broadband and device connection technologies such as Bluetooth.

The common ground between them is more effective communication. “The evolution of wireless technology has been driven by both consumer and business demand for simpler, more efficient, and lower cost communications,” says Jason Ashton, managing director of wireless broadband provider BigAir. While each of these options can benefit your business, and many can work in combination, it’s important to plan carefully before choosing.

Wireless networking (often referred to as WiFi or WLAN) involves connecting computers to each other, and potentially to a shared internet connection, via radio-wave transmissions rather than physical cables. This requires each PC to be equipped with a wireless network receiver, which comes standard in most newer notebook PCs, but will probably need to be added to desktops.

Connecting to a Wireless Network

A wireless access point or router also needs to be installed in your premises. Larger businesses may require several, as well as specialist equipment to deal with areas that get a weaker signal due to thick walls or other equipment. The standard for wireless transmission is broadly known as 802.11. More recent equipment will be compliant with the 802.11g standard, which offers faster transmission.

In addition to utilising your in-office network, notebook computers equipped with wireless connectivity can also make use of ‘hotspots’ in locations such as cafes and airport lounges to access the internet while travelling. This can be useful for highly mobile staff in areas such as sales, though the pricing is steep compared with regular internet access, and workers will need to be conscious of security issues.

Eliminating the expense and hassle of cabling, as well as allowing users with portable machines to move around the office, has meant wireless networking has quickly soared in popularity. “Warehouse management, for example, has become unthinkable without the benefit of an appropriately implemented wireless LAN, while wireless boardrooms and common areas are becoming more frequent, providing greater convenience and improved productivity for employees,” says Keith Ondarchie, CEO of wireless broadband provider Access Providers.

However, that popularity seems to vary by industry. “Wireless networks are still used only as a convenience in most industries outside retail, healthcare and manufacturing,” says Forrester Research analyst, Ellen Daley.

While wireless networks have proven popular with businesses of all sizes, wireless broadband has particular appeal to small businesses as it uses proprietary spectrum to provide high-speed internet access without relying on the existing telephone network. As well as cutting down on equipment requirements, this can benefit businesses that can’t get DSL broadband because it’s not available in their local telephone exchange.

“Wireless broadband is the wireless technology that I believe will impact small businesses the most,” says Roland Chia, national manager for connectivity and converged communications at Dimension Data Australia. “Wireless broadband technology has improved dramatically and the signal speed and strength is now of a level where it can support the needs of small businesses. Cabling for internet connection is a big cost drain for small businesses, so the flexibility and cost saving of wireless broadband can have a significant impact.”

The main challenge with wireless broadband is availability. While there are several active providers in Australia (including Access Providers, BigAir, iBurst and Unwired), most are restricted to limited geographical areas, normally on the east coast.

For workers on the move, another wireless broadband option is to use the new high-speed 3G mobile phone networks for internet access. Optus, Telstra, Three and Vodafone all sell data cards to allow this kind of wireless access. While the speed is slower than full-blown wireless broadband providers, coverage is generally wider.

The last major category of wireless connectivity is Bluetooth, a standard used to connect together devices that are relatively close to each other. Bluetooth has proven particularly popular in the mobile phone world for use with headsets or for synchronising phone calendars with computers. However, its relatively slow speed makes it an unlikely choice for more demanding applications.

Wireless Network Problems

Active ImageLike any IT project, going wireless requires both well-defined goals and a realistic budget. If all your staff work in a single office and your PCs are already connected, then it may not be a worthwhile investment. However, if you hold regular meetings in a boardroom or other location, then going wireless will allow staff to make better use of their PCs in a meeting environment. Wireless can also be beneficial to rapidly expanding businesses, since you won’t have the hassle of needing to reconfigure network cabling every time you move premises.

The most discussed challenge associated with wireless technology is security. If not properly configured, wireless networks can be vulnerable to intrusions by hackers seeking either free internet access or confidential company data. “Security will always be the biggest challenge with wireless technologies. Plug and play wireless broadband units are often set, and left on the default setting,” says Chia. “This default setting typically offers little or no security, so this is something businesses need to be conscious of.”

“Wireless access to enterprise applications introduces new and unique security risks, as organisations must consider ways to prevent outside attacks on the end-user device, over-the-air transmission technology and connectivity from the carrier network to the business network,” Ondarchie adds.

As well as security, signal strength can be an issue. Some architectural designs inhibit wireless networking signal. This can be overcome with specialised concentrators and other equipment, but may increase the cost of your overall implementation.

Many of those problems can be avoided by working with an IT provider to ensure your system is configured correctly to utilise wireless security standards and provide the best possible connections. While many products are advertised as being ready to operate out of the box, spending time configuring security options and transmission options is well worth it. “SMEs should shop around and ensure they implement business-grade systems and services from reputable service providers,” says Ashton.

Businesses also shouldn’t neglect the cultural changes that occur when staff can readily move around the office, or around the state, with a fully connected PC. “For many companies, mobility has seeped into the organisation through tactical solutions to specific field problems. Few have come to mobility with a strategic vision from the outset,” Forrester analyst, Carl Zetie, points out. As with most elements of business, planning is the key. 

What do you think?

    Be the first to comment

Add a new comment

Guest Author

Guest Author

Dynamic Business has a range of highly skilled and expert guest contributors, from a wide range of businesses and industries.

View all posts