Just as a wireless network's speed can vary greatly, so too can the range. For example, 802.11b and g officially work over a distance of up to 328 feet indoors or 1,312 feet outdoors, but the key term there is up to. Simply put, unless youre setting up your network on the moon, you wont see anywhere close to those numbers.
As you might expect, the closer you are to an access point, the stronger the signal and the faster the connection speed. The range and speed you get out of wireless network will also depend on the kind of environment in which it operates. And that brings us to the subject of interference.
Interference is an issue with any form of radio communication, and a wireless network is no exception. The potential for interference is especially great indoors, where different types of building materials (concrete, wood, drywall, metal, glass, etc.) can absorb or reflect radio waves, affecting the strength and consistency of a wireless networks signal. Similarly, devices like microwave ovens and some cordless phones can cause interference because they operate in the same 2.4 frequency range as 802.11b/g/n networks.
You can't avoid interference entirely, but in most cases its not significant enough to affect the usability of the network. When it does, you can usually minimize the interference by relocating wireless networking hardware or using specialized antennas.
In the same way that all you need to in order to pick up the local radio station is a radio, all anyone needs to detect a wireless network within nearby range is a wireless-equipped computer.
Theres no way to selectively hide the presence of your network from strangers, but you can prevent unauthorized people from connecting to it, and you can protect the data traveling across the network from prying eyes. By turning on a wireless networks encryption feature, you can scramble the data and control access to the network.
Wireless network hardware supports several standard encryption schemes, but the most common are WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), and WPA2. Although they have similar abbreviations, they are not equivalent. For example, WEP is the oldest and least secure method and should be avoided. WPA and WPA2 are good choices, but provide better protection when you use longer and more complex passwords (all devices on a wireless network must use the same kind of encryption and be configured with the same password).
Unless you intend to provide public access to your wireless network and put your business data and your customer's personal data at risk you should consider encryption mandatory.
Wireless networks can help you cut costs when it comes to adding or moving employees within your office and provide flexible connection options to increase productivity. Now that you know the basics involved, you can consider whether or not a wireless network makes sense for your business.
Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in Naples, Fla. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).
This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.