Q: I need to convince my boss that a wireless network will definitely work in our organisation. Can I just go and buy an access point and plug it into my existing T-1 line and show him that wireless networks will work perfectly in our organisation? In doing so, can I assign 802.11g 128-bit WEP encryption on the access point in order to secure the wireless network just established?
Tejas, Chicago

The Wizards ponder and reply:

Seth Goldhammer, Roving Planet
Implementing a static WEP key on an access point may not be everything your boss needs to see to believe your organisation is ready for wireless. For most CIOs, they will want to know:

  • How you will implement the wireless network and costs?
  • How will security policies be implemented and appropriate for different users or devices?
  • How will the IT administration have the right tools to support the wireless network?
  • What applications will be used and operations efficiencies introduced as a result of the wireless network (ROI)?

Dan Simone, Trapeze Networks
You’ll probably do a much better job convincing your boss of the applicability and security of a WLAN in your environment if you do a little more homework. Work with a value-added reseller or WLAN vendor directly to get a brief overview of how a WLAN could be deployed in your environment. Look for a vendor with tools that automate the planning process, taking into account building obstacles in your facility. A few hours spent on planning will enable you to show your boss where the WLAN would be deployed, how many users could access it and at what performance level, and the security mechanisms you would use to ensure privacy.

This kind of well thought-out plan will not only show you in a better light but will also help make sure you’ve covered the important steps for a successful deployment.

Inderpreet Singh, Chantry Networks
It depends on the size of your organisation and the criticality of your applications. In a small, 10-to-15 user environment, going to Best Buy and purchasing a consumer grade access point, turning on 802.11g and 128-bit WEP (or nowadays, WPA-PSK) would be sufficient. However, if your organisation has significantly more users, or has mission-critical applications and requires strong security policies, then we would suggest you look into enterprise class WLAN infrastructure equipment. You get manageability, strong security features, scalability, fault tolerance and the whole gamut of advanced WLAN features like radio frequency management, rogue access point detection, etc.

If all you need to do is convince your boss that 802.11 technology is prime time, then that should be no sweat. To convince him/her that it will work in your organisation, again, it depends on the mission-critical nature of your applications.

Albert Lew, Legra Systems
If you just want to show that wireless networks work, and can provide coverage, then you can certainly go and purchase an access point and show how it provides connectivity to your network. However, to provide security with this access point, we would recommend purchasing an access point that supports WPA and, at the very minimum, using a long, non-dictionary attackable passphrase in conjunction with WPA-PSK. If you have Microsoft Windows 2000 or Windows .Net/2003 server, then you should try to activate RADIUS to provide 802.1x authentication services on the server, and use WPA with any Microsoft Windows XP clients you have for much more secure wireless networking.