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Cut the cord: going wireless opens a whole new way of doing things.

The wireless revolution continues to change the way individuals and businesses work, access information and communicate. As the technology becomes more affordable and gains broader acceptance, more and more individuals and organizations will be jumping on the bandwagon. How can a CPA take advantage of the many benefits wireless technology offers without getting completely buried in buzzwords, acronyms and geek speak?

First and foremost, the goal behind any wireless initiative must be considered. Ask yourself, Why do you want to go wireless? What would you like to access wirelessly? E-mail? Internet? Other critical applications? Will it increase business? Will it increase your productivity? Second, match that goal with an understanding of existing wireless options. And third, consider the importance of information security with each solution. Follow these steps and you'll be well on your way toward making wireless technology work for you and your business.

UNPLUGGED

In its simplest terms, wireless refers to the connection of two devices without the use of a physical wire. Functionally, the term includes a number of different technologies ranging from short range (a few feet) to wide area (miles). To better understand wireless and some of the evolving wireless technologies, it's helpful to break it down into the following categories:

* Personal Area Network (PAN)

* Wireless LAN (WLAN) Technologies (802.1x)

* Wireless WAN (WWAN) Technologies (2G, 3G)

PANs

Personal Area Networks, or PANs, use Bluetooth technology to create a short-range connection between various devices. Bluetooth is a short range (30 feet) radio technology operating in the 2.4GHz band with transfer speeds up to 1Mbps.

Bluetooth is showing up on a number of new devices, including desktop and laptop computers, printers, peripherals, PDAs and phones, allowing these devices to "network on the fly" and share information. While general acceptance is still somewhat limited, look for this technology to show up in more and more of the latest consumer electronic devices--everything from automobiles to refrigerators--basically wherever short range connectivity is required.

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WLANs

When most people refer to wireless, they are referring to wireless local area networking, or WLANs. This technology often is also identified or referred to by its IEEE standard designation of 802.11. The 802.11 standard is actually a number of different specifications that operate at various speeds, frequency bands and distances. The popular standards in use today include:

* 802.11b. Also known as WiFi, this was the first WLAN standard and enjoys the most popularity. 802.11b operates in the 2.4GHz frequency band, has a range of about 100 meters and allows for connection speeds up to 11Mbps. In the event devices are not able to establish a good connection at 11Mbps, the speed will automatically adjust downward to 5.5, 2, then 1Mbps, until a reliable connection is established. The technology is mature, inexpensive and the most widely deployed, Many new laptops and higher-end PDAs come equipped with built-in 802.11b support, making it possible to connect to the Internet or a computer network within range of an access point or "hotspot." Two familiar examples of 802.11b technology include a wireless network in a home or office, and the wireless hot spots at a local hotel, restaurant or coffee shop.

* 802.11a. The 802.11a standard was developed to provide additional connection speed. It operates in the 5 GHz frequency band, has a range of about 50 meters and allows for connection speeds up to 54Mbps. This technology is newer, tends to be more expensive and the devices and equipment are not compatible or interchangeable with the 802.11b standard. In addition, the 802.11a standard is only supported in the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada.

* 802.11g. The 802.11g standard is very similar to 802.11b because it operates in the same 2.4GHz frequency band and has a range of about 100 meters. The primary difference is that it is capable of running at speeds up to 54Mbps. Given the similarities, 802.11g devices are often backward compatible with 802.11b devices, so an investment in existing 802.11b infrastructure can be protected.

WIRELESS WANs

Wireless wide area networks, or WWANs, use cellular phone technology that enable users to connect to the Internet, connect to host networks and send or receive e-mail. Many new and exciting developments are occurring with WWAN, but keeping track of everything can be downright confusing. An abundance of options are available depending on the cellular provider and the progress the provider has made with rolling out its chosen technology.

Today, most vendors are signing up customers for one of their 2.5G (two and a half generation) or 3G (third generation) data network plans. These plans vary in price and coverage, but most offer some type of fixed price for unlimited connection time.

To connect to one of these high-speed data networks, a user must purchase a special card--programmed to dial the vendor's high-speed network when activated--to plug into a laptop or PDA expansion slot.

In addition, many new phones can be activated to access these high speed data networks (in addition to making traditional voice calls), although coverage is not always identical with where voice communications service is available.

Finally, when users connect one of these data capable phones to a laptop computer or PDA, the technology is used to gain high-speed access to the Internet from that device.

This is one warning: Be careful not to sign up for lengthy contracts for these new data networks; the marketplace is evolving quickly and the technology that seems adequate and affordable today could very well be tomorrow's boat anchor.

MEETING YOUR NEEDS

Which wireless technology is right for you? If you're interested in removing some of the cords within a small office location, a personal area network with Bluetooth may be sufficient. If working from a home office, airport, hotel lobby or the local fast-food joint is a frequent occurrence, WLAN technology becomes the natural choice. Finally, for access to key information from nearly anywhere, wireless WAN service is the clear choice. And with all of these, of course, cost is a factor.

Before going wireless, however, one last word: Make sure you consider the security level of any strategy before rolling it out and confirm that the system will not unwittingly expose corporate data to compromise. After that, cut those cords and don't look back!

For More Information

* www.bluetooth.com--Bluetooth

* www.bluetooth.org--A user's group that functions as a subset of www.bluetooth.com.

* www.about.com--What You Need to Know About. This provides additional resources by searching on wireless security and wireless networking.

* www.intel.com--Intel. Includes white papers on deploying a wireless LAN and implementing security.

* www.wifialliance.org--WiFi Alliance Lists WiFi compatible products based on IEEE 802.11 specification.

* www.wirelessdevnet.com--Wireless Developer Network. A site listing news and technical publications for wireless developers.

by David Cieslak, CPA

David Cieslak, CPA, CITP, GSEC, is a principal with Information Technology Group, Inc. in Simi Valley. You can reach him at dcieslak@itgusa.com.
COPYRIGHT 2004 California Society of Certified Public Accountants
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Title Annotation:Wireless Technology
Author:Cieslak, David
Publication:California CPA
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:1169
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