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IT Basics: An introduction to the wireless internet. By Kevin Salter

26th Oct 2006
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In this extract from 'Remote Working - A Practical Guide', Kevin Salter explains the technologies that let you access the internet over a wireless link - and how they can benefit your business.

What is Wi-Fi
"Wi-Fi" is short for "wireless fidelity" and is meant to be used generically when referring of any type of 802.11 network, a reference to the international standard for wireless networking devices.

Commercial Wi-Fi hot spots are springing up across the UK and Ireland as operators install high-speed wireless networks at locations such as railway stations, airports, business parks and coffee shops. These hot spots mean that anyone with a wireless-enabled PDA or laptop can surf the Internet and send email at high speed, without having to plug into a network.

Wi-Fi hot spots are targeted both at business users and consumers, and this is reflected in the wide range of different access packages on offer. Some operators target the business market by offering monthly and annual subscriptions, some of which also give access to Wi- Fi networks in other European countries. At other hot spots, users can buy as little as 30 minutes worth of wireless access for a few pounds.

Some hot spots are still in their trial phase, meaning they currently provide free internet access. Some hotels charge for internet access, while others such as Bewleys Hotels - offer it for no charge. Unfortunately, a subscription to one Wi-Fi operator doesn't entitle you to log on at hot spots operated by a rival operator, so if you're planning to sign up it is important to choose a service provider with hot spots near where you work, live, or travel.

The wireless networks will be automatically detected and clicking into them will bring up the option to subscribe to their use for a period of time - generally a minimum of 30 minutes - and a typical rate is around £3.50-£5.00 per hour with discounted rates for 24 hour or weekly access. You will need to provide a credit card number over the internet to subscribe but these are “secure” sites.

3G data cards
If use of a wireless hotspot is not for you, consider a 3G (third generation) data card. Adapted for use with 3G phone networks, This PCMCIA device fits into almost any laptop and allows wireless internet connection. The purchase price of a card depends on the price plan selected – a higher monthly charge usually results in a lower purchase price.

Wi-Fi in the office
Wireless operation is not restricted to laptops. It is perfectly feasible to have both desktop and laptop computers connecting wirelessly to the office network in the office. A Wireless Access Point (WAP) is required. This connects into the wired network and allows wireless users to access the services. Each PC that is going to access via the WAP needs a wireless adapter card. Many laptops come with this inbuilt, but if not, a PCMCIA card can be inserted. A PCI card is needed for desktop PCs.

WiFi security
When accessing a wireless network you should ensure it is secured. If it is unsecured someone else could use your internet account free of charge, and if you have metered access it could cost you dearly.

The most basic wireless security is WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). This uses a code – called a key – which has to be entered into any product that wants to access the router. This has to be in a specific format, but most routers can generate the code for you based on a memorable word. Another form of security is WPA – Wi-Fi protected access. This is also based on a password.

For a full examination of all of the technologies that can support remote working, consult Kevin Salter's 'Remote Working - A Practical Guide', which is available as a PDF download from AccountingWEB for £40.

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    Replies (2)

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    By carnmores
    31st Oct 2006 14:19

    no mention of
    HSDPA ?

    Thanks (0)
    By User deleted
    03rd Nov 2006 18:08

    Think Carefully About Security
    If you don't need this type of wi-fi technology I'd hold off for now. Referring to any type of 802.11 network that is. In my experience it is easily compromised by techies in the know. ADSL cable connections are more secure for business.

    2.4Ghz wi-fi routers and all transmissions on that frequency can also be jammed by the purchase of a relatively cheap gadget.

    You have been warned!

    Thanks (0)