Getting unwired

By Robert Currier, ITworld.com |  Networking

Thinking about taking a dip in the wireless pool? The water looks inviting and those
folks over there by the espresso cart look like they're having fun. But wait -- what's
this? A fin? Yup -- there are toothy carnivores lurking in that brilliant blue water.

Establishing an enterprise wireless infrastructure can make you feel like you're
swimming with sharks. Between the demands of the users ("We want full coverage from the
basement to the penthouse") and the marketspeak of the vendors ("This baby will
penetrate 14 feet of solid concrete!") it's enough to make you want to give up swimming
forever.

Relax. Setting up a wireless network is relatively straightforward, as long as you
follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Go with standards-based equipment. Right now, that means href="http://www.opengroup.org" target="_new">IEEE 802.11b, good for a
    maximum of 11 Mbps. 802.11a is under development and will be capable of 54
    Mbps.

  • Don't believe the coverage claims. Get your supplier to loan
    you an access point and some wireless cards. Walk the building and build your own
    coverage map. Radio waves are strange beasts -- sometimes you need three access points
    where the rules call for one, and sometimes you can get away with one when you should
    need three. A lot depends on the way the building is constructed.

  • Pay attention to security. It's easy to get caught up in the
    thrill of losing your Ethernet leash, but don't get so excited that you forget to think
    about security. Many of the units we've tested are configured out of the box to hand
    out connections to any 802.11b card that enters the coverage cell. If you have a
    dynamic DHCP server on that network segment, that could mean big trouble. All a cracker
    would have to do is purchase a standards-based wireless card and walk into your
    wireless zone. Bingo -- he's got an IP address and looks just like a normal user.
    That's bad news for you if he starts doing unfriendly things.

In our next column we'll walk you through a typical deployment. In the meantime, check
out these links for more info:

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