Wireless - Productivity and Problems

Wireless - Productivity and Problems

We keep hearing it: wireless is 'hot', but how much is reality and how much is hype? Some universities have explored wireless and given it a campus-wide thumbs up. In the healthcare sector, wireless is being rolled out to remote staff as well as to in-house users. Computerworld gets the rundown on the pluses and minuses from early adopters

With some 80 sites scattered around Sydney to manage, Catholic Education Office (CEO) IT infrastructure manager Shane Wharton knew wireless was the way forward.

After flirting with the technology for many years in an "ad hoc" way, the Office has had a unified wireless network of more than 300 access points for 18 months.

"There are a lot of productivity gains, some nebulous, but from an IT perspective, the location management of staff requires no configuration," Wharton said. "They just come in and start work and there's always at least one spot in the staff room."

With people always moving around the 80 sites, Wharton described the mobility aspect of wireless as "fantastic", adding it has also produced noticeable savings.

"For a knowledgeable user, the savings would be five minutes in solving a connection problem, but for new user that could be 20 minutes plus the time they would have spent asking others [how to connect]."

As well as the apparent cost benefits, Wharton also praised the additional flexibility wireless provides.

"The technology extends the WAN outside our locations and that wasn't possible before so we have this flexibility," he said. "Our architecture still says we are a wired network, but we have cut the costs of cabling extensions and can better meet needs for 'any time' access. How can you put a price on that?"

Despite all the hype surrounding wireless in recent years, Wharton "couldn't live without it and I wouldn't want to".

"It's liberating and convenient and has been revolutionary for us," he said. "It also helps with difficult connectivity issues."

Amid the sea of wireless vendors and options, Wharton recommends finding a partner who can "add value to meet your specific needs".

Other things to consider are scalability and expandability, security configuration and management, and the end-to-end network features you may get if you have the same vendor as your switches and routers, Wharton said.

"There are a lot of competing standards but make sure you have power over Ethernet," he said.

Although the Catholic Education Office's wireless adventure has been positive, there were a few problems along the way.

Wharton cited the "shared nature" of the bandwidth, finding power where it's best for the access point, site problems, and the need for specialist aerials, as problems with implementing the infrastructure.

"The integrator should know the best way to do it to get best coverage and density," he said.

As wireless matures, Wharton has an "open mind" and is "hopeful" that many of the problems will be addressed by the vendors, but not necessarily confident. "There are emerging standards and often they will be competing [and they] will cause disruption with what you have and require further configuration and management," he said. "But there is a point where the advantages of a new tech overcome the cost. The shared nature of bandwidth will be solved eventually, even if by brute force."

Wharton believes wireless has also helped in other ways as there has been a "big acceptance of IT generally, because this stuff really meets their needs and it works".

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