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Wireless technologies are evolving at such a fast pace it is often difficult to keep up with the current protocols let alone those that are under development. The need for faster communications and the demand for voice and video over wireless networks are increasing every day. New wireless standards are in development to increase the performance of wireless voice, video and data transmission. The use of mobile devices from smart phones to tables is quickly outpacing the use of desktops and workstations, which are accessing the network. Most companies will face the decision to integrate a wireless solution into their existing network structure to remain competitive and flexible in and increasingly mobile office environment. Incorporation of a wireless network segment will help employees be more productive by not being tied to an office or a desktop computer. If the technology is correctly incorporated, the risk can be mitigated so that the benefits far outweigh them. One interesting emerging wireless standard is the 802.11ac standard, which provides wireless speeds that are at or near wired line speed. We will go into a brief history of wireless communications, compare the different wireless revisions, discuss the implications to stakeholders, integration of wireless devices into a LAN and WAN, feasibility of wireless connections and operational planning considerations of implementing a wireless network.
According to an article by Knight the number of mobile devices, accessing the internet will surpass that of wired connection by 2015 (Knight, 2011). In fact, in some countries like India it has now exceeded the number of traditional desktops and laptops accessing the Internet. There is no doubt that that a new paradigm shift is occurring and to capitalize on this and the growing market a company needs to keep current and relative, and one way to achieve this is to integrate wireless connections and access point onto the existing network infrastructure. This adds value to the customer and the worker and makes the workforce more flexible and mobile. Employees can connect to the Internet and the network resources from mobile devices and laptops from conference rooms, meeting rooms or access their files from almost anywhere in the building without having to plug in a Ethernet cord. Before now the speeds of the wireless standards were not as fast and connection and coverage could be spotty, with the newer standards using the less crowded 5 Ghz frequency the range an speed of the devices have increased and in some cases more than doubled from the original 802.11 standard.
The newest wireless standard 802.11ac offers high-speed connectivity, security and the ability to service more clients, which make it an excellent choice to implement in business environment.
Let us start of by defining what a wireless network is, according to Cisco "A wireless local-area network (LAN) uses radio waves to connect devices such as laptops to the Internet and to your business network and its applications." Wireless devices in a LAN and end user devices usually user radio waves to connect to an access point (AP) which then connects via an Ethernet cable to the Internet and Network resources. Another type of wireless connection method is by the user of free space optics which transmit data at high speeds and long distances using infrared light, however our focus will be on the radio wave transmission. Most portable devices have built in wireless access card standard and you can purchase wireless cards for desktops and laptops, which do not have them for about the same cost as a network interface card. To implement a wireless LAN we will need to implement and extended service set (ESS) which means that it contains two or more basic service sets (BSS). This means that there will be multiple access points servicing multiple devices, connected to a network backbone. So now we know a little bit about what wireless network is lets delve into the benefits of a wireless network.
Benefits and comparison of wireless standards
With so many Wi-Fi standards on the market and with evolving technologies how does a business sort through them all and decide on which standard to implement? Which one will meet your present and future business goals and provide a balance between security and convenience? I will briefly discuss the three main standards 802.11a, 802.11g, 802.11n and the newest 802.11ac standards and go over their strengths and weaknesses, and security concerns.
The first wireless network standard was released in 1997 and was developed, revised and released by the IEEEE. The first 802.11 standard transmitted data at 1 and 2 Mbps using infrared transmission. If you remember the older personal data assistants, PDA's usually had and infrared transmission port built into them. To transmit data with these devices you had to line up the device with the receiver and the transmission of files took quite a bit of time. For this reason and many others, the IEEE began drafting revisions to the original 802.11 standard to add other forms of wireless transmission methods using radio waves.
The next big improvement of the standard was the use of direct-sequence spread spectrum to transmit a signal across a 2.4 GHz radio band. This was introduced in 1999 with the 802.11b the first revision to the standard. As stated the 802.11b standard uses the 2.4 GHz frequency and transmits data at 5.5 Mbps and 11 Mbps.
Shortly after the 802.11b revision was released the 802.11a revision was released which used the 5 Ghz frequency, used orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing and is capable data transmission speeds from 12 to 72 Mbps. Unlike DSSS use of a single high-bandwidth carrier to transmit a data OFDM uses multiple low bandwidth carries to transmit data which improves reception and reduces echoes and reflections (Van Beijnum & Barcelo , 2011).
The 802.11g Standard was introduced in 2003 and offered backward capabilities with 802.11b, however it still used the unregulated 2.4 Ghz frequency. The biggest improvement was the increase of the number of sub-carrier channels it used which pushed the data rate up to 65 Mbps.
The 802.11n standard was finalized in 2009 and used both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz frequencies which made it compatible with b and g networks. All 802.11n devices use at least two data streams, which increased to data rate up to 130 Mbps. Other developments which increased the speed of the 802.11n standard was the use of multiple antennas (MIMO) and the use of wider data channels which increased from 20Mhz to 40Mhz which further pushed the data transmission rates up to 270 to 300 Mbps(Ciampa, 2006).
The 802.11ac standard was proposed in 2011 and is currently still undergoing revision; however there are already companies that are producing device that utilize the draft standard on the market. The 802.11ac uses the 5 Ghz bandwidth. It offers speeds up to 1 Gbps and has a comparable range with other Wifi devices and standards like 802.11g, 802.11a and 802.11n which also operate in the 5 Ghz band. The new ac standard delivers much faster bandwidth and can handle more clients per access point than other standards by using innovative MIMO antenna arrays and apply beamforming. The table below shows some of the characteristics of the 802.11 standards (Huang 2012).http://electronicdesign.com/content/content/74186/74186_table1.gif
MIMO is not new to wireless standards and was introduced with the 802.11n standard, this technology uses multiple antennas to send and receive data. The biggest dirrerence is that the new ac standard supports up to 8 antennas compared to the 4 supported by the N standard. Some additional improvement of the 802.11ac standard are increased channel bonding from the maximum of 40 MHz up to 80 or even 160 MHz, which allow for an increase in transmission speeds by increasing the data throughput. The last big improvement is the use of a denser modulation, now using 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), compared to 64 QAM used by the 802.11n standard.
All wireless communications suffer from the same security concern, which is that it is easy to intercept a wireless signal without anyone knowing about it. Unlike hard lines, wireless transmissions move through the air and usually in all directions so someone can capture them near the source or destination, hardline transmissions are usually harder to tap into without alerting someone. One way to stop wireless communications data from being compromised is by using encryption. The use of encryption conforms to the IEEE 802.11i standard and usually uses a block cipher algorithm and the Advances Encryption Standard (AES). Now that we have covered the comparison of standards and security concerns let go into the history of wireless communication and it regulation.
Regulatory History of the Wireless Industry
Ciampa list three main standard-setting and regulatory bodies of wireless technology. These are Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEEE), he Wi-Fi Alliance and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Additionally the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates some wireless communications devices such as RFID tags and cell phones. I have summarized all of the common frequencies and uses in the chart below.
Very Low Frequency (VLF)
10 KHz to 30 KHz
Low Frequency (LF)
30 KHz to 300 KHz
High Frequency (HF)
3 MHz to 30 MHz
Short wave Radio, CB Radio
Very High Frequency (VHF)
30 MHz to 144 MHz
144 MHz to 174 MHz
174 MHz to 328.6 MHz
Tv Stations 2-6, FM radio
TV stations 7-13
Ultra High Frequency (UHF)
328.6 MHz to 806 Mhz
806 MHz to 960 MHz
960 MHz to 2.3 GHz
2.3 GHz to 2.9 GHz
Air traffic control radar
Super High Frequency (SHF)
2.9 GHz to 30 GHz
Extremely High Frequency (EHF)
30 GHz and above
The IEEE is the world's largest technical professional society and comprises of 37 Societies and Councils and dates back to 1884. The IEEE releases and revises wireless communications protocols and standards. The Wi-Fi Alliance is a consortium was formed in 1999, and its major efforts are to encourage wireless manufactures to conform to 802.11 standards. They also test and certify that products adhere to the standards to ensure they are compatible with each other.
The Federal Communications Commission was established by the Communication Act of 1934 and their primary concern is developing and implementing regulatory programs for wireless communications including radio, television, and landline communications.
Most wireless network operate using an unlicensed bands either the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band or the Unlicensed National Informational Infrastructure (U-NII) band. Unlicensed bands do not require a license to use and operate, however because they are not regulated hardware from other vendors may attempt to use the same frequency and cause interference.
Implications for stakeholders
Implications for stakeholders are that the technology is that they will have a network that can be accessed on the fly from virtually anywhere in the building. These means they can connect to the network from conference rooms or in the break areas and never miss and important emails or updates. By selecting this technology, they are protecting the network from future upgrade cost if they chose and older and slower speed standard. This new standard is new enough so that it should be more than adequate for the next 3-5 years with the possibility of only minor software/firmware upgrades or enhancements. The management of a wireless network is straightforward and easier to set up and maintain than most wired networks. Merging this with the current network will pose some new management challenges and administrator will need to be hired or trained to maintain and troubleshoot wireless network to keep it running at peak performance. This may incur and additional initial and ongoing cost for network management but the decreased cost of deployment will offset this in a short time.
Integration into a LAN
Integration of wireless devices into a LAN or WAN are usually straightforward and easy to implement, most access points connect to an existing router via a Ethernet cable. You then have to set up and secure the AP by changing the default admin name and password and SSID. You can even set up each wireless AP to act as its own individual DHCP server (for smaller networks) or have it connect and assign IP addresses to each device through a central DHCP server (for larger networks). Authentication of users can be handled through each AP or through a AAA server such as Radius or may even be an open network which provides access to the Internet only and connection to the network through a secure VPN tunnel. Integration of wireless equipment does have to consider where the physical access point will be placed, they can be placed in a variety of places from ceilings to plenum spaces, however they need to be secured or not easily accessible to unauthorized personnel.
Feasibility of implementing Wireless
The most complex and vital aspect of employing a wireless network is doing a detailed site survey. The site survey is used to determine the best locations to install access point and wireless technology and to identify any sources of interference or coverage blockage.
Any new deployment of wireless solution on a network should consider using a pure 802.11ac only network operating at the 5 GHz range. The reasons for this are: 1. There is less congestion on the 5 GHz band and less interference from other devices. This standard offers more non-overlapping channels than the other standards, which makes it easier to deploy multiple access points in a large area without interference or hidden node problems. 3. It is a well established standard and a lot of vendors have devices using this standard on the market. 4. It is more secure than the previous standards. 5. The speed should be enough to meet most applications and the life cycle for these devices is usually only a couple of years , however this new standard should be more than adequate for the next 10 or more years.
The newest wireless standard 802.11ac offers the highest speeds, increased station support, and increased security specifications, which would make it the ideal choice for implementing this technology into our existing wired network for the following reasons.
ï‚·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â ï€ Increased number of clients per access point
ï‚·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â ï€ Increased speed and distance
ï‚·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â ï€ Increased battery life for mobile devices
ï‚·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â ï€ Cost about the same as current 802.11n devices
Wireless technology is cheaper to set up and maintain in buildings that do not have long-term leases or for structures or not owned. Laying copper wire or fiber optic in building you may only occupy for a shot period is a sunk cost and in some cases may have to be removed as part of the leasing agreement to restore it to its original condition. Additionally a company may incur the cost of removing the old cable when they want to upgrade a hardline, and this cost can be avoided by using wireless connections. Many companies are already offering access points, wireless adapters and other products on the market with a full range of features to meet consumer and business's needs. The average cost for a single 802.11n access point is around $250. The average cost of a 802.11ac access point is from $250 to $300 which is only a marginal increase over the current standard devices (Ngo, 2012). The extra cost for the ac standard devices is due to is implementation of multiple antennas, and because it has higher speed of up to 1.3 Gbps, compared to 802.11n's 450 Mbps. Most companies run gigabit connections to each workstation so this new wireless standard would allow them connect at near wire speed wirelessly.
This new standard also has the ability to service more stations than a standard 802.11n access point. The 802.11n standard access point can service 30 wireless devices while the 802.11ac is expected to be able to service up 254 wireless devices per radio (Cannon, 2012). According to one online source the average cost of running additional UTP drops to cost around $150 per line drop (Wes, 2008). The range for each Ethernet drop is 100 meters from the switch. The range of the wireless network is around 230 feet for n and ac access points; however, this may increase due to the use of a newer technology called beam forming and MIMO antennas, which are supported on this new standard (Meru Networks, 2012). To offer complete coverage will require multiple access points; however, unlike a standard cable connection each of these wireless access points can support multiple nodes. The only real drawback of implementing this standard would be that most mobile devices do not yet come standard or support the 802.11ac standard, these devices can connect using one of the other standards because it is backwards compatible with them and if it is a dual band device it can even provide support for older technologies using the 2. GHz frequency.
Implementing wireless devices into the existing wireless network should occur in a seamless and almost transparent fashion as possible with little interruption to the network and users as possible. After the site survey is completed, and the exact amounts of access points are determined, and suitable locations are found the devices can be installed in phases. The phases are the physical installation of the devices and the implementation of the security policies.
A Physical Implementation
Wireless implementation should follow all of the same physical security precautions as any other piece of network equipment. The physical location of the devices should be as secure as possible and Cat6 Ethernet cables will need to be deployed from the equipment closets to each AP. The AP's should be installed on the ceiling or in the plenum space to provide maxim coverage and specially designed cases are on the market to secure the devices and allow them to be installed in these areas while meeting security and safety standards.
B Security Implementation
Security on wireless network involves not only security access to the devices, but also involves changing default passwords, disabling unused features and changing the default SSID. The SSID should be changed so that someone detecting the AP cannot easily determine the exact type of device they are connecting to for example most SSID's are named after the manufacturer and model of the device like Linksys WRT54G access point. The default password and logon should also be changed and conform to the current network policy standards for devices connected to the network. Additionally any unused services should be turned off on the device such as telnet access or unused ports. Policies need to be developed and enforced which outline the acceptable use, network protection and connection procedures.
The implementation of a wireless network will allow our employees to be more productive by allowing them roaming access from conference rooms for their laptops, tablets and smart phones. In addition going with the newest technology will keep us ahead of the game and we should not have to update our wireless infrastructure for a while because this new standard should provide plenty of bandwidth and connectivity well into the future. Security concerns can be mitigated and reduced by implementing well developed procedures and by using encryption and authentication protocols incorporated in wireless devices. The 802.11ac standard