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More Businesses Deploy WLANs Throughout Buildings

Faster speeds, better security, and more applications spur deployment of pervasive wireless LANs.

While Wi-Fi hotspots have cropped up in coffee shops, convention centers, and hotel lobbies, businesses have been slow to adopt wireless LANs inside their offices and buildings or have deployed them only in a limited fashion. That's starting to change as the technology matures and new applications are introduced.

More than 60% of businesses have deployed wireless LANs, according to Forrester Research. And the size of those networks is growing, with the average number of access points per deployment doubling in the past year from 75 to 150. Businesses are expanding the reach of their WLANs from pilot projects in conference rooms and public areas to cover more workspace.

Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard disclosed plans last week to jointly help businesses deploy pervasive WLANs that span buildings and campuses and support emerging apps like voice over Wi-Fi and location-based services. Cisco will provide the wireless infrastructure, including its Catalyst 3750G WLAN switch, access points, a network management system, and its Unified Wireless Network software. HP will act as a systems integrator, helping companies design and deploy the networks and the applications and services that run on them.

More Than An Access Point

Cisco has bundled support for features such as security, guest access, voice over Wi-Fi, and location-based services into its WLAN switches. The technology can be used to locate and track workers with Wi-Fi-enabled devices and assets tagged with radio frequency identification chips. The system also has intrusion detection and prevention technology that can spot and locate unauthorized wireless devices, reducing a security threat that had caused some businesses to shy away from WLANs. That should let business technology managers start thinking of WLANs as an enabler of new apps and not just an access point to the Internet or the company intranet.

Verizon Business in June launched a service to help businesses and government agencies extend the reach of WLANs within office buildings and other facilities. Verizon installs WLAN equipment from Aruba Networks, which is popular among large customers because it provides centralized management for network security and policies. "These partnerships between HP and Cisco, as well as Verizon and Aruba, do show that the [WLAN] market has reached a maturity level," says Paul DeBeasi, an analyst at Burton Group.

The WLAN WaveOne strong selling point for WLANs is the ability to use the wireless network for voice calls, reducing the use of costly cell phones. But the key to making that work is good network coverage--dropped calls aren't acceptable. At the University of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada, security guards equipped with Wi-Fi-enabled phones can make calls from anywhere on campus, says Jocelyn Nadeau, the university's IT director. Students in dorms also can move around from one room to another or to public areas with Wi-Fi-enabled phones without losing a network connection, he says. Soon the guards will be able to view video feeds from the school's IP security cameras on their phones.

Faster WLANs also may spur greater usage. Belkin, Buffalo Technology, Linksys, D-Link, Netgear, and other vendors offer gear based on a draft of the 802.11n standard, which promises speeds of around 200 Mbps over a distance of about 160 feet, around four times the range and 12 times the throughput of the current 802.11g standard. An industry group, the Wi-Fi Alliance, plans to start testing the gear next year to ensure interoperability, even though a standard isn't expected to be ratified until 2008. The faster data speeds and greater reach should make WLANs more appealing to businesses and let them more easily deploy the technology in a pervasive fashion, moving it out of the conference room and into more offices.

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