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Wireless for Small and Mid-Size Businesses: The Objectives, Limitations and Benefits

- January 28, 2013 2:06 pm

I hope you’ve had a chance to read the first two posts in our new small and mid-size business-focused blog series. The first, Introducing Our New Small and Mid-Size Business-Focused Blog Series, highlighted topics we planned to address throughout the series. The second was a Q&A with Sean Stanleigh, in which Gary and Sean discussed thoughts around challenges facing Canada’s mid-size business sector.

One of the small and mid-size business challenges Gary and I feel is most critical to address in further detail is wireless. In this blog, we’ll discuss how small businesses can utilize wireless technology to grow and increase operational efficiencies. We’ll take a look at what must be considered when transitioning to wireless solutions for your business and challenges that may hinder businesses from properly utilizing their wireless technology. We’ll also take a deeper dive into what you need (or don’t need) for successful operation of wireless access points for your business and some essential requirements when adopting wireless. 

First of all, did you know there are things that can interrupt or impair wireless technology solutions from working correctly and efficiently? It’s true. Dense building materials such as filled cinder blocks, brick, rock walls, adobe and stucco construction can significantly reduce the strength of wireless signals and increase the amount of wireless access points necessary to ensure the fast, reliable connection that your business needs. Also, things that hold water, such as pipes, bathrooms and elevator shafts can limit the range of wireless signals, making network connections slower and less dependable. If you’re having issues with your wireless signal, it’s important to double-check that nothing is limiting the signal strength and to be aware of things that can limit wireless capabilities.

Secondly, it’s important to address how many wireless access points are appropriate for the amount of traffic that will be connecting to the points. This is what we call our “People to Access Point ratio.” More often than not, small and medium-sized businesses require fewer than 24 access points, but businesses need to also consider how much bandwidth is needed in their overall plan. Without adequate bandwidth to handle your business’ traffic, you may not accurately realize expected productivity gains. It is critical that you or someone within the business be able to control multiple access points and balance the load across all of them accordingly. Centrally managed wireless controller appliances can help manage this dynamically to boost access point performance and save essential time.

Now, let’s take a look at safe and secure networking through wireless business solutions. Many of us I’m sure, have searched and found unsecured wireless networks to connect to when we’re away from home or the office. Keeping your business’ wireless network safe is a top priority and using obsolete protocols for wireless security, like WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) should be avoided at all costs. There are better, more secure alternatives to choose from. For instance, WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2 help safeguard against hackers and can provide essential security for small businesses. For increased protection, your IT department should configure access points to use the strongest available AES 256 bit encryption. It’s also important that guest networks are properly secured and isolated as well. Today, if not done properly, it’s too easy to enable a guest SSID without realizing that you’ve just enabled another advertisement to join your core network.

Now some of you may be asking yourselves, “Can I use the same access points that I have at home for my business?” Well, depending on the size of the business, wireless devices designed for home use are most likely not a fit for the business environment. Although these are typically less expensive, they are not designed to achieve the results nor provide adequate security beyond a small home office.

Businesses with multiple access points will require devices designed to achieve a seamless connection, whereas home access points are designed for single deployments and will interfere with other access points in multiple access point scenarios.

Regardless of whether you’re content with the size of your business and don’t foresee growing substantially into the future, I believe it’s important to think about your current and future networking needs, and be prepared to grow with the technology. One of the most important benefits of a wireless infrastructure is that it is fairly simple to reconfigure an office space during times of growth or change.  The equipment and the configuration should be driven by business goals — be mindful of what your potential needs will be six months to a year into the future.

So as you can see, a wireless network can be a great asset to your business, but you must be careful to consider the objectives, limitations and the potential future benefits.  Also, be aware of the possible pitfalls to avoid disappointment and lost productivity time.  When done right, a wireless implementation can translate into a successful business plan for small and mid-size businesses.

If you have any questions or thoughts concerning wireless or other challenges pertaining to small and mid-size business, please feel free to share them below or contact me directly via email at askrod@external.cisco.com.

Our next post will feature a Q&A with Mario Séguin of Medwave Optique (MWO), a valued partner of Cisco. Gary and Mario will be discussing more about wireless; specifically how wireless solutions are changing today’s small and mid-size business strategies and operations, and how working with a Cisco partner to find the right technologies for your business can lead to increased productivity and efficiency.

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2 Comments

  1. Well, considering that this is the third post in this series, having read all of them actually broadened my knowledge on Small and Mid size business, the initial challenges they face and how vital role wireless plays(from this blog). Being a customer myself in many scenarios, i truly agree with the point that social networking sites/media has a role to play in advertising, because that’s how i am notified of the latest news. Certainly safe and secure networking is the important thing to look out for, especially during the initial stages.

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