Advantages and Challenges of Wireless Networking for Small Businesses
When to know if you’re ready to cut the cord
Doing business today without a computer network is nearly impossible. You might as well go back to quill pens and ink wells. But if you’re running a small business, and you’ve got your site wired for ethernet workstations, is that enough? Should you make the jump to wireless networking, and if so, what are the pros and cons? At KMF Technologies, we help small to medium-sized businesses transition to wireless networking when doing so would advance their organizational objectives. These might include:
- Allowing workers to access the network with a greater range of devices
- Allowing more flexible use of the business space
- Bringing in additional staff without investing in infrastructure
- Providing Internet access to visitors
The list goes on and on. The point here is that your technology plan has to support your business development plan. You have to ask where you want your business to go in the next three to five years. If wireless networking can facilitate your development plan, then it is probably worth the investment. However, you should be aware of the advantages and challenges, so you can weigh one side against the other and make the best decision for your situation.
Advantages of wireless networking for small businesses
Wireless networks can deliver the following benefits for your small business:
- Increased efficiency — Depending on how your business operates, immediate data access from all corners of the worksite can speed operations.
- Improved access — Workers are rarely out of touch, so turnaround time on messages is greatly reduced. Improving worker response time can be a major factor in customer satisfaction and retention.
- Work station flexibility — Your workers don’t have to be sitting at their desks to be productive. They can perform necessary tasks from anywhere on site.
- Lower costs — If you want to add a workstation, you don’t have to run wires to a desk.
- Staffing flexibility — Given the item above, it’s easier and more cost effective to add temporary staff when demand for extra workers is high. And what’s true for temp staff goes doubly for permanent hiring.
- Customer amenity — If you run a business where customers are onsite, having a wireless network that guests can access adds to their experience. You can also use your wireless network to drive sales to those customers while they’re on the premises.
- Support for mobile workforces — If you have workers, such as your sales team, who routinely access your network offsite through a variety of devices, giving them onsite access to a wireless network only makes sense. They can seamlessly transition from remote to onsite work with the same device.
- Easy video conferencing — A wireless network eliminates the need for additional hardware, so your staff can video conference without relying on seldom-used equipment that no one in the office is sure about how to operate.
- Improved aesthetics — Let’s be blunt: exposed wire is ugly, easily becomes a tangled mess and attracts mounds of dust. Limiting your dependence on wiring produces a streamlined, cleaner look for your worksite.
Taken together, these advantages illustrate how wireless networking can improve productivity, eliminate worker and customer frustrations, improve management oversight, and elevate morale, all while reducing costs.
Challenges to cutting the cord
Even if you just skimmed the preceding section, you’ve got to be pretty amped about the benefits of going wireless. But before you cut the cord, you have to consider the possible downsides, which include:
- Security concerns — When you send up a wireless signal, chances are that some opportunist is going to try and hitch a free ride. This might seem harmless, until the freeloader does something illegal that can be traced back to your IP. And if anyone can access your signal, their next step might be to attempt to penetrate your network, where they can wreak havoc on your operations. It’s important to understand security risks and take decisive steps to prevent harm.
- Variable speed — Ethernet connections are wonderfully consistent as far as speed goes. Wireless not so much. There are numerous factors that could influence your connection speed, including how many workers are on the network at any given time, what type of tasks they’re engaged in, the electromagnetic physics of your worksite, and if you are experiencing any outside interference. Slower speeds are going to hamper productivity, so you must adjust your system to compensate.
- Dead spots — “Can you hear me now?” is a familiar tagline from a cellular phone ad campaign, and it’s apropos to wireless networks. Depending on the configuration of your worksite, you may have some areas that are simply dead zones. Having a dead zone in a broom closet is no big deal. But if your main conference room is impervious to Wi-fi, you’ve got a problem. A knowledgeable IT professional can sometimes design a plan to overcome such obstacles and should at least be able to warn you about certain areas of your premises where a signal will be weak.
The good news is that all the challenges associated with wireless networks are manageable, provided that the benefits are worth the investment of your company’s resources. As long as you work with a skilled IT pro who can understand the issues with your particular worksite, you can have the information necessary to perform your own cost-benefit analysis and determine whether it’s time for your company to cut the cord.