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BYOD Considerations

4 Sep, 2014 By: Kathy Vogler, PERRY proTECH

Mobile technologies have been used in manufacturing facilities for decades to help workers automatically collect data while on the job to increase productivity and accuracy.  These wireless networks were built for specific functions with known ranges and types of equipment that would be used such as bar code scanners, laptops and RFID devices. 

Additionally, most companies offer wireless access in a guest environment such as in a conference room to allow visitors to access the Internet without engagement in the company’s network.  Again, this is a relatively controlled environment with specific uses and ranges. In these examples, the wireless networks have been built for coverage.

Then we all got iPads and SmartPhones at home and wanted to use them at work.  IT security professionals realize this might be a mobile nightmare waiting to happen.  Many businesses now provide company-owned devices and they are widely used in daily operations.  Most of these are used for basic applications such as access to the Internet and email, business tools such as Microsoft Office, and corporate intranets.  Some even allow employees to bring in their own devices if they want to use them in their daily tasks. 

And, we don’t want to use these mobile devices tethered to our desks as in the past, what’s the point?  We are all now roamers.  We walk down the hall, work from the cafeteria, go outside to the parking lot, move from this office to that office and do not want to drop our conversation or our thoughts. Aside from the exponential increase of technical and financial support that is required from your IT staff for these devices, your IT staff has a whole slew of new issues and concerns that will devour additional time and resources the more BYOD grows within your operation.  BYOD is great for employee morale and hopefully for productivity, but it definitely increases the burden on your IT staff rather than reducing it. 

Wireless is no longer contained to the warehouse or the conference room. Wireless requirements have moved from coverage to performance and include new purposes such as data, voice, video and location tracking.

Wireless local area networks (WLAN) use a radio frequency spectrum technology to enable communication between multiple devices in a limited range.  NCR invented the precursor to 802.11 with WaveLAN, a wireless product that was intended for use in the cashier system.  IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) standards of communicating in six frequency bands were released in 1997 by the IEEE LAN/MAN Standards Committee.  

I am not an engineer, so I am breaking down the primary options best as I can understand them:

  • 802.11b was the first widely accepted wireless networking standard that uses 1 through 6 channels that fall within the 2.4 GHz amateur radio band and suffers occasional interference from microwave ovens and other Bluetooth devices.  802.11b has a maximum raw data rate of 11 Mbits/second – it has been the most frequently used standard.
  • Additionally, 802.11g and 802.11n-2.4 utilize the 2.4 GHz, but operate at higher data rates to bring reductions in costs.  Like prior devices, they can suffer from other products using the 2.4 GHz band such as wireless keyboards.
  • 802.11a uses a less crowded 5 GHz band that offers at least 23 non-overlapping channels and is often used by wireless access points (AP’s) cards and routers, and has an air-interfaced physical layer.  The disadvantages of the higher carrier frequency is a smaller range and signals are absorbed more readily by walls and other solid objects in their path due to their smaller wavelength.
  • 802.11ac was published in December 2013 and builds on 802.11n to include wider channels (80 or 160 MGz) in the 5 GHZ band, twice as many spatial streams and additional multi-user  MIMO (multiple input / multiple output) technologies.

WLAN, Wi-Fi, Wireless Mesh, WPS, Wireless PAN, WEP, WPA  – does any of this make your head hurt? Mobile technologies and the wireless infrastructure that backs them are their own entity in IT.  Not everyone is skilled in this area.  Putting in a couple-user network at home from instructions provided by your ISP does not an expert make. Reliable wireless networks depend on the network elements at the physical layers to be protected against all operational environments and applications.  Those seen and unseen, expected and unexpected … with built in redundancies and failovers.  

And, while wireless networks have always been a science to implement, manage and control … we are now unleashing the personal products, the cloud, the multiple choices of operating systems and many unknowns into our work environments.  My take away from this discussion on just the infrastructure requirements of BYOD is that your existing network is probably not built for BYOD, that you need to be prepared for unforeseen costs and unintended consequences of allowing BYOD, and to rely on the experts to put the proper system into place. 

And, did I mention security?  GASP!  Yes, that is yet another very important discussion and needs to be considered and addressed when you are considering BYOD.

Kathy Vogler is the Marketing Director for PERRY proTECH, a leading provider of business technology solutions and products throughout north and western Ohio, northeastern Indiana, and southern Michigan. Visit http://www.perryprotech.com for company info or vkvogler@perryprotech.com

About the Author: Kathy Vogler

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