Differentiating 802.11b LANs

Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve gotten beyond the fluctuating standards and hefty price tags associated with wireless LANs. You’re compelled to make an investment -- probably in an IEEE 802.11b-compliant technology, which is the enterprise standard today -- because wireless is particularly strategic to your business. You’ve deemed it worth the investment of up to $1,800 per access point and as much as $500 per PC adapter card. But there are several 802.11b-compliant vendor products to choose from. What are some basic differences to consider?

* Does the product have autoconfiguration capabilities?

This is important if your installation is far-reaching with many access points. In smaller installations with only a few access points needed, configuring them one at a time is not a particularly labor-intensive task and might not be worth paying a premium. However, if you have hundreds or thousands of access points installed across a large enterprise, hospital or university campus, for example, configuring them and having to make changes to user authentication information individually can become a big deal.

* How does the LAN system support roaming?

With most vendors’ 802.11b equipment, access points must be connected to the same Ethernet subnet to enable this basic capability. If you want more configuration flexibility, you can choose a LAN vendor that supports Mobile IP client software, if you can find one (many LAN vendors do not because of the added cost) and run your own Mobile IP server. (Some access points are also slated to soon support Mobile IP server software.)

Alternatively, you could invest in a proprietary software product such as WRQ’s NT-based NetMotion, which enables users to suspend their IP connections as they roam across LANs and WANs. Or you could look at solutions such as Proxim’s Harmony 802.11b line, which requires the purchase of an access point controller but offers the flexibility to roam across LAN subnets, as well as investment protection in management software. And Intermec Technologies’ wireless LAN tunnels all wireless data over IP routers so that users’ IP addresses will be valid regardless of which subnet they are on.

This story, "Differentiating 802.11b LANs " was originally published by Network World.

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