Is That Really Necessary?

Networking

Because of its low cost and stability, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet network earns its place as the backbone of any collaborative enterprise. The real networking question is: Should you hook one of the versions of 802.11x (Wi-Fi) wireless networks to your wired network? The answer is yes, although this is one of those bleeding-edge technologies that requires careful deployment and usage.

With more than 200 interoperable brands in the marketplace, cheap Wi-Fi access points and client adapters are everywhere. But because native security is anemic and unauthorized connections are quite difficult to detect, either a 11Mbps 802.11b or 54Mbps 802.11a network will likely represent a significant security risk for your company.

The solution to this potential problem is to purchase more expensive products with proprietary security protocols, like those from Cisco, 3Com or Proxim, or to deploy a virtual private network. That adds significant cost and administrative complexity. But Wi-Fi isn't going away anytime soon, and you don't want employees using their own unsecured transceivers.

Mobile workers also need Bluetooth, which, according to some pundits, can be supplanted by Wi-Fi. Not so. Bluetooth is a short-range, low-power protocol for wireless data synching, not communications. It lets mobile workers select from an array of incompatible portable devices--from a cell phone to a laptop or whatever the business situation demands--and synchronize contact and other data among them without any hassle. Bluetooth is easy and cheap. Wi-Fi is relatively inexpensive, although it might require various usage guidelines, an list of approved products and an aggressive program to buy secured products for anyone who wants them.

But first, let's think about this no-brainer for a moment: If your enthusiastic, go-getter employees want more opportunities to get more work done at home or on the road, you'd be crazy to stand in their way. Networking will definitely pay off in this situation.

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This article was originally published in the April 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Is That Really Necessary?.

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