OTHER WIRELESS CONSIDERATIONS
Installed Life Cycle Costs
The cost of a wireless system is a rapidly moving target, and it can’t be said if costs are rising or falling because the equipment is getting more complex. Most people assume that a wireless LAN is less expensive than a wired LAN, yet this is not necessarily true, particularly if one considers the cost of delivering bandwidth that is equal to a wired system. Some of the costs to expect in implementing a wireless LAN system include:
Cabling: Backbone cables from the computer room to the wiring room are still required with a wireless system. Some cables from the wiring rooms to wireless devices are also needed. In an existing facility, these components are likely already in place.
Wireless Access Points: The access points are the radio transmitters that are the primary components of the wireless system.
Antennae: Antennae may be part of the access point or may be separate devices.
Mounting Devices: Access points are often installed in the ceiling. Special ceiling tiles or wall mount boxes may be appropriate. In some jurisdictions there are limitations on the installation of active devices in a plenum ceiling or plenum-rated access points may be possible. The laws and building codes must be determined for each jurisdiction.
Power: The wireless access points require power. Some must be plugged into electrical outlets requiring the installation of a power outlet at each point. More commonly, the access points are powered through the Ethernet cable and power supplies are required in the wiring room. Power circuits may have to be installed for these power supplies. Individual access points do not draw much power and plug into a conventional outlet. When many pieces of equipment are installed in the wiring closet, the electrical load can accumulate from the multiple devices.
Wireless Network Interface Cards (NIC Cards): Individual computers require a circuit for connection to the wireless system called an NIC. Many laptop computers come with wireless NIC cards. If the computers do not have the cards, one will have to be purchased for each computer.
Planning Study: A survey of wireless point coverage will have to be conducted to determine the number of points and their optimal placement. Typically, this is conducted by the vendor/installer of the wireless equipment, and is part of their overall fee.
Installation: Typically, an outside vendor will install the system, although some are installed by the IT department. Usually a vendor has a contract to conduct the planning study, provide the equipment, and install the system, including access points, antenna, power and NIC cards. The vendor also performs the initial configuration and testing, and provides training.
Electrician: An electrician may be required for the power and/or data cable installation.
Wireless Systems in the Facility © 2005 IFMA Foundation
Operational and Soft Costs
User Training: Users of the system will have to be trained. A wireless LAN involves training users how to connect and log-in, otherwise computing is the same as a wired network. A PDA system with custom software could involve very elaborate training.
IT Staff Training: IT staff may need training in how to administer the system. In particular wireless LANs have unique security administration requirements that may have to be learned.
IT Staff Administration Time: The wireless network must be maintained, like all other parts of the net work. In particular the security features must be diligently maintained. Staff must also monitor the system for unauthorized intrusion. The IT staff ’s ongoing time must be apportioned to the life cycle cost of the wireless system.
Help Desk Training and Time: Part of the life cycle cost is the training of the help desk staff with part of their ongoing time apportioned to the life cycle cost of the wireless system. They will get calls when users are unable to connect to the wireless network, or when their connections drop.
The evolution of wireless systems is so fast moving that each installation can be expected to have a short life cycle before demand for a replacement or upgrade occurs. Most of the cost components will occur again with the replacement system. If a proprietary system has been installed, the life cycle can be particularly short. Proprietary systems may have to be replaced as standards-based systems emerge.
Security has been a weak spot in many wireless LANs, and these systems have a bad reputation for poor security. Hackers drive around and find corporate LANs to tap into from their cars. There is underground information about how to tap into free wireless networks. The unsecured networks of organizations do more than open the Internet to outsiders, they also open the organization’s servers and data stores to outsiders as well.
Reasonably comprehensive security features are now built into many new wireless systems. But even the most secure wireless systems can still be broken into by a very skilled hacker. The biggest security problem traditionally is that organizations do not implement the security features that they have. The security features must be implemented, maintained and used. If a system with elaborate security features is purchased, and those features are not turned on, then the enterprise systems are at definite risk of intrusion. Such maintenance typically falls to IT as part of LAN administration and the facility manager has little involvement. A typical office worker today with a wireless card in a computer in a multi-tenant building
can access one or more unsecured LANs of other tenants. One would think that all the publicity about underground access to wireless networks would make organizations more security conscious, but this has been slow to develop.
Another common type of problem occurs when employees install unauthorized wireless equipment on networks. Often, when this is done, the security features are not turned on, creating a large network security gap. It is not uncommon for networks to have wireless equipment that IT does not know about. Some IT departments now have technology for detecting unauthorized devices. The facility manager who often tours the facility more than IT staff may be in a position to be more aware of unauthorized systems. The facility manager would well serve the organization by having a collaborative relationship with IT and informing the department of unauthorized devices.
© 2005 IFMA Foundation Wireless Systems in the Facility 21
Bluetooth devices are not immune to security problems and it is possible for unauthorized devices to access Bluetooth equipment. PDAs are subject to security issues and viruses. PDAs are also easily lost or stolen and if unsecured, can provide a path into the network. A stolen PDA may have local unsecured data that could be accessed. PDA systems can use encryption and connect to the facility network via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for added security.
Wireless is the transmission of information via electromagnetic waves. Are these fields harmful to health? Research is inconclusive, but little impact has been found. We are all subject to low-level electromagnetic fields every day. Our local AM and FM radio stations are bombarding us with a wireless signal all the time. Standing next to a refrigerator or large electric motor subjects one to a greater electromagnetic field than a wireless LAN.
Cell phones are a particular concern, because the phone is held right next to the brain for a prolonged period of time. Research is inconclusive on this matter. Still the possibility of a problem with cell phones exists and radio waves were recently announced as a treatment for some brain problems, so there can be an impact. Radio frequency energy at higher levels than is found in wireless systems can be dangerous. Some argue that since we are unsure about the impact, exposure should be limited, particularly in children.
The preponderance of evidence since 2000 shows no adverse health effects from low level radio frequency waves. However the possibility of some impact particularly from cell phones, has not been completely ruled out. Direct exposure to high power microwave radiation may be a problem, and a microwave transmitter should not be installed close to occupied space. Both the Federal Communications Commission and OSHA in the United States have formulas to calculate the safe distance.
The biggest challenge with wireless is to look ahead. Wireless technology is developing quickly and there are many complex forces shaping its future. The facility manager must be prepared for the future, yet the future evolution of wireless systems is not clear. We have made educated projections about how it will impact the facility, but this could change rapidly. Facility managers should keep up with new developments in this area. It is also important to not get caught up in the hype involved with wireless.
Wireless can be a fantastic business asset, but its limitations must be admitted. There will be a role for wired infrastructure for some time. Keeping up with the evolution of wireless standards is also important, as organizations are always better off with standards based-systems.