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Wi-Fi or No-Fi

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Some say you would have to have your head in the sand not to have heard the latest buzzword in the tech industry: Wi-Fi. Coined in recent years, Wi-Fi is the user-friendly name for a group of technologies based on the IEEE 802.11 specification. In simpler terms, if you have a “wireless” network in your home or office, most likely, you have Wi-Fi. Taking it a step further, you have a Wi-Fi “hotspot”.

The term hotspot refers to the 300-foot radius around a Wi-Fi access point where users should be able to connect to the wireless network. The hotspot term is popping up everywhere, from airports to hotels – even your local coffee house wants you to know they have a Wi-Fi hotspot!

Mass appeal

The benefits of Wi-Fi are simple. Rather than being tethered to a desk, a Wi-Fi enabled laptop enables users to roam freely from desk to conference room to lobby to courtyard without the need to plug-in each time. Home users can surf the Internet from the kitchen table without tripping over cords or having to run expensive network cable through existing walls.

Then there’s the road warrior. Imagine being able to sip coffee at the airport while surfing and responding to e-mail, minutes before a flight. How about making last minute changes to your presentation while in the hotel bar, rather than cooped up in your hotel room for hours on end? This is the promise of Wi-Fi and for the most part, these scenarios are more reality than hype.

What’s the catch?

While home users and Starbucks have been quick to adopt Wi-Fi solutions, much of Corporate America, until recently, was still on the fence. Security and costs are the two greatest obstacles to mass deployment. Without strong encryption in place, IT execs fear an unwanted hacker can sit in the parking lot and surf the corporate accounting system. And with network cable already run to every desk, conference room and lobby, what’s the point?

The Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit group organized in 1999 to lead the Wi-Fi charge, wants you to know solutions are close at hand. Most specifically is the adoption of WPA, a subset of the just-to-be-released 802.11i specification that significantly enhances the security of legacy devices. Many older devices can be upgraded (through firmware or software) to support WPA and will provide much stronger security. The newest hardware being shipped today supports WPA out of the box and is generally considered enterprise-worthy.

Is Wi-Fi part of your future?

Even chipmaker Intel is getting in on the action and is betting $300 million on an ad campaign for their new Centrino technology. Centrino combines Intel’s latest processor, chipset and Wi-Fi certified network connection. Laptop vendors must incorporate all three solutions into the same notebook to brand it as “Intel Centrino”. The integrated nature of this solution means the industry has recognized Wi-Fi is here to stay and will drive costs down as Wi-Fi just comes standard with every notebook, just like a CD-ROM drive. Of course, Centrino is WPA capable, so now hardware vendors building Centrino branded notebooks can advertise enterprise-secure functionality right off the shelf.

Networking giant, Cisco, is betting on Wi-Fi with their $500 million acquisition of Linksys, the SOHO market leader of networking gear. This combination will bring even greater stability to the market as vendors are forced to certified standards significant competition among major players in the marketplace.

Wi-Fi is a natural evolution of networking as users demand greater flexibility, performance and ROI. With the appropriate governing bodies in place, industry recognized standards and major vendors spending big-bucks to market and educate, there seems to be no doubt Wi-Fi will someday play a part in your technology infrastructure.

For more information on Wi-Fi or any of the other networking services offered by ICS Advantage email info@icsadvantage.com or visit www.icsadvantage.com/networking.asp

Neil Witek, PMP, CISA is a Project Manager with ICS Advantage; a member of the Sikich Group. In this role, Neil is responsible for the coordination of design, planning, implementation and testing efforts on ICSs most complex engagements. Neil’s primary focus is on unique projects regarding IT security and control including local government, e-commerce and secure networking. As a member of the Sikich Group, Neil provides IT audit services for Sikich-Gardner clients throughout northern Illinois. These services leverage his hands-on experience accumulated as a 14-year veteran of IT professional services.

Wi-Fi or No-Fi
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About Neil Witek
Neil Witek, PMP, CISA is a Project Manager with ICS Advantage; a member of the Sikich Group. In this role, Neil is responsible for the coordination of design, planning, implementation and testing efforts on ICSs most complex engagements. Neil's primary focus is on unique projects regarding IT security and control including local government, e-commerce and secure networking. As a member of the Sikich Group, Neil provides IT audit services for Sikich-Gardner clients throughout northern Illinois. These services leverage his hands-on experience accumulated as a 14-year veteran of IT professional services. WebProNews Writer
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