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Thursday, 09 January 2014 10:07

All Wi-Fi’s are Not Created Equal Featured

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post 75 picIt seems like everywhere you go businesses are offering Wi-Fi for their customers or employees.  I recently sat in a car on a street corner and my phone found ten Wi-Fi networks within range. 

If you plan to provide this in your dental practice, here are a few technical points to consider before making the plunge.  

A Little History

In 1997 the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the standard for connecting wireless devices to a Local Area Network (LAN). 

This standard was given the catchy name “802.11”. 

What would you expect from engineers?  As technology progressed the standard became a family of standards:  802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. 

Many differences exist between each family member, but for our purposes each succeeding generation became faster and generally a longer range. 

The current top-of-the-line is 802.11ac which some vendors claim will provide gigabit speeds, rivaling wired networks.

It Takes Two to Tango

Two wireless devices are necessary to implement a wireless network in your office.

1.    The first attaches to your network and is either a “wireless access point” or a “wireless router”.  Two flavors of the same functionality.  The wireless access point is wired to your network and provides the radio transmit/receive capability that is the basis for Wi-Fi.  The wireless router does the same thing, but in addition will provide several ports for wired connections.  Think of these devices as providing the door onto your LAN.
2.    Something must come through that door in order to utilize the wireless environment.  Enter the cell phone, laptop or tablet computer that will connect to your LAN and exploit the connection you have provided.  

Let the dance begin.  

Choosing Your Door

Many wireless access points and wireless routers are available on the market today.  Here are a few links.

ProSafe® Wireless Access Point from Netgear
Amped Wireless APA20 High Power 700mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi Access Point
Belkin 1800 DB Wi-Fi Dual Band AC+ Gigabit Router
Asus 802.11ac DualBand Gigabit Wireless Router

The products listed above are provided only as examples of Wi-Fi devices and are not intended to represent any kind of endorsement or recommendation.

You should note the use of the “ac” moniker on three of the examples, signifying their compatibility with the latest generation of 802.11.  Also notice the free use of the term “Gigabit” implying wired network speeds.

Backwards Compatibility

If you’ve bought a top-of-the-line router or access point, you will find that it has no trouble with communicating to slower devices.  This is accomplished through “backwards compatibility”.  If your router senses that a cell phone is trying to connect to it through the 802.11g protocol, it will adjust to accommodate that speed. 

The wireless dance will be done at the best speed of the slowest partner.  Buying a faster router or access point may not increase your transmission speed if the end-point device does not support the faster rate.  

What the Heck is Dual Band?

“Dual band” is also used in the example links.  It is not a two-stage rock band battle.  It refers to the frequency that is used for the wireless communication. 

Many wireless devices receive and transmit in the 2.4GHz (Giga Hertz) range.  Think wireless phones, keyboards or mice. 

Because this frequency is commonly used, your Wi-Fi network may find it crowded with other interfering devices.  Dual band also allows communication to happen at 5GHz.  Deciding which frequency to use is all part of the dance that happens between the router/access point and the end device. 

Think of it as choosing the tempo of the song they wish to dance to.  Maybe it is a two stage rock band battle, after all.  

Setting Wireless Expectations

If you’re thinking that I’ve been careful in what I’ve written concerning Gigabit wireless speeds – I have.  When using your Wi-Fi access to do some Internet browsing or checking email on your cell phone or tablet, you should be more than happy with some of the slower connection speeds (i.e. 802.11n or even 802.11g). 

However, if you are moving digital images over your wireless network, speed will be of great importance.  

The Gigabit speeds of 802.11ac are achieved by breaking up your communication into three data streams.  Each of these streams could flow at speeds of 433 Megabits/second providing an aggregate rate of almost 1300 Megabits or 1.3 Gigabit/second. 

This is no problem for some of the higher-end wireless access points or routers.  Many of them can support as many as eight streams simultaneously.  The problem lies in the end-point device, the cell phone, laptop or tablet. 

Currently most of these devices support only a single data-stream and remember the speed you see will reflect that of the slowest device.  

I have every expectation that the end-point devices will catch up with the “ac” potential but until that happens, adjusting your Wi-Fi expectations accordingly would be a right click.

Next week’s post will speak to considerations around Wi-Fi and HIPAA.  Stay tuned.

Read 16829 times Last modified on Thursday, 09 January 2014 10:30
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