What is a WLAN and Does My Small Business Need One?
If you run a company, it’s extremely difficult to do business without online connectivity. Sales potential, marketing efforts, lead generation and logistical processes can all be drastically enhanced by an effective wireless connection — and in this day and age, you’re probably doing your business a disservice by not having one.
But there are quite a few to choose from. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), Peer-to-Peer (P2P) setups and an ever-increasing range of Wide Area Networks (WANs) have been increasing in popularity over the course of the last decade, and each has its own set of unique benefits. Yet by and large, the most popular method of online connectivity for small businesses continues to be the Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) — and with good reason.
What is a WLAN?
People tend to use the terms WiFi and WLAN interchangeably when discussing standard wireless internet connections, but the truth is there is a subtle difference. A WLAN is a method of wireless delivery that joins two or more high-frequency radio devices. More often than not, those devices share a frequency with an internet access point in order to create a small network connection with a limited geographical catchment area (ordinarily around 30 to 150 feet).
WLANs are also sometimes referred to as Local Area Wireless Networks (LAWNs), and are one of the most common small business connectivity solutions offered by internet service providers.
How is that different from a WiFi connection? In name only.
Although people use the term WiFi to describe just about every type of wireless internet connection under the sun, it’s actually a trademarked name owned by the WiFi Alliance. Only products explicitly endorsed by the alliance are allowed to feature its logo — even if they’re WLAN-compatible.
It’s all semantics, really — but the distinction is good to know when you’re shopping around for relevant products.
Do I Need a WLAN for My Business?
It’s not necessarily fair to generalize and say a company will live or die based upon its internet connectivity. But the truth is, there aren’t many organizations that wouldn’t find a WLAN (WiFi certified or not) incredibly useful. For companies operating in the catering and accommodation space, free wireless internet connections are taken for granted by customers. But there are plenty of practical reasons for all businesses to have one.
First and foremost, businesses with a WLAN are able to utilize a wider range of devices. You’ve got to be connected to the internet to enjoy full use of the majority card machines, industrial equipment, phones and computers — and a premises-wide wireless network is the best way to do it. In turn, WLANs free employees up to get work done with different devices in different areas, increasing collaborative thinking and efficiency.
And so long as your company’s wireless requirements aren’t too picky or complex, investing in a WLAN is the simplest and cheapest way to develop your own network.
How Do I Set Up a WLAN?
In most cases, setting up a WLAN is incredibly simple. First and foremost, you need a broadband connection. Chances are your premises will already be connected to a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or area cable, and so you’ve just got to get it switched on. You can shop around for relatively cheap deals across a wide range of providers. They all offer different tiered plans based upon your needs, and most are WiFi certified.
After you select your provider and activate service, you’ll need a modem and a wireless router — which normally includes an Ethernet switch and access point. Your internet service provider will often allow you to rent these devices as part of your WLAN plan, but you can also purchase your own from a retailer. And because these devices are pretty user-friendly, they’re usually color-coded and super easy to set up.
If your company operates in a bigger space, you can also enhance your WLAN with an additional access point or signal booster. These devices aren’t terribly expensive, and can drastically boost your internet signal in order to cater to more staff members, consumers and devices.
As with any basic investment, you’ve got to do your research before setting up a WLAN for your business. Think about your requirements and what you’re going to be using your connection for. Then, ask service providers lots of questions and compare products.
But at the end of the day, you haven’t got much to lose. WLANs are easy to set up, super affordable and will drastically enhance your company’s offerings.
Choosing the Right WLAN for Your Business
When selecting a WLAN for your business, it’s crucial to consider your specific needs and requirements. Here are some factors to keep in mind:
Coverage Area: Determine the size of the area that needs wireless coverage. If your business operates in a large space, you might require multiple access points or signal boosters to ensure reliable connectivity throughout.
Number of Users and Devices: Consider the number of employees, customers, and devices that will connect to your WLAN. Ensure that the chosen WLAN solution can handle the expected traffic without significant slowdowns.
Security: Prioritize security measures to protect your business data and network from potential threats. Implement encryption protocols, strong passwords, and regular security updates to safeguard your WLAN.
Scalability: Opt for a WLAN solution that allows for scalability. Your business may grow, and you’ll want a network that can easily accommodate additional users and devices.
Guest Access: If your business welcomes guests or customers, consider offering a separate guest network with limited access to your main network. This enhances security while providing internet access to visitors.
Reliability: Look for WLAN equipment known for reliability and uptime. Downtime can be costly for your business, so choose products with a strong track record.
Support and Maintenance: Ensure that you have access to technical support and maintenance services in case of network issues or equipment failures. Reliable support can minimize downtime and disruptions.
Budget: While WLAN solutions are generally cost-effective, consider your budget when selecting equipment and service plans. Compare pricing and features from different providers to find the best fit for your business.
Future-Proofing: Think about the future needs of your business. Invest in WLAN technology that aligns with future advancements and industry standards to avoid frequent upgrades.
Factors to ConsiderConsiderations
Coverage AreaDetermine the size of the area requiring wireless coverage. Larger spaces may need multiple access points or signal boosters for reliable connectivity.
Number of Users and DevicesEvaluate the expected number of users and devices connecting to your WLAN. Ensure the network can handle the anticipated traffic effectively.
SecurityPrioritize network security with encryption protocols, strong passwords, and regular updates to protect your business data from potential threats.
ScalabilityChoose a WLAN solution that allows easy scalability as your business grows, accommodating additional users and devices without disruptions.
Guest AccessEnhance security by offering a separate guest network with restricted access to your primary network, providing internet access to visitors safely.
ReliabilitySelect WLAN equipment known for reliability and minimal downtime to prevent disruptions that can be costly for your business.
Support and MaintenanceEnsure access to technical support and maintenance services for quick resolution of network issues or equipment failures to minimize downtime.
BudgetConsider your budget when choosing equipment and service plans, comparing pricing and features from various providers for the best fit.
Future-ProofingPlan for future needs by investing in WLAN technology aligned with future advancements and industry standards to avoid frequent upgrades.
Securing Your WLAN
The security of your WLAN is paramount to protect sensitive data and maintain a reliable network. Here are some essential security measures:
Enable Encryption: Use encryption protocols like WPA3 to secure your WLAN. Encryption prevents unauthorized access to your network by encrypting data transmitted between devices.
Strong Passwords: Set strong, unique passwords for your WLAN equipment, including routers and access points. Change default passwords to minimize the risk of unauthorized access.
Regular Updates: Keep your WLAN equipment’s firmware and software up to date. Manufacturers often release updates to address security vulnerabilities and improve performance.
Firewall Protection: Implement a firewall to filter incoming and outgoing network traffic. Configure the firewall rules to block malicious traffic and protect your network.
Access Control: Limit access to your WLAN by configuring access control lists (ACLs). This restricts which devices can connect to your network based on their MAC addresses.
Guest Network Isolation: If you offer a guest network, isolate it from your main network to prevent guests from accessing sensitive business data.
Network Monitoring: Use network monitoring tools to detect and respond to suspicious activity or intrusions promptly.
Expanding Your WLAN for Business Growth
As your business expands, so too may your wireless networking requirements. Here’s how to adapt and expand your WLAN to accommodate growth:
Assess Current Needs: Regularly assess your business’s wireless networking needs to identify areas that require expansion or improvement. Consider factors like increased user count and larger coverage areas.
Additional Access Points: If your business space grows or experiences high user density, consider adding more access points. Strategically place these access points to ensure seamless coverage.
Mesh Networking: Explore mesh networking solutions that use interconnected access points to create a broader and more robust WLAN. Mesh networks are scalable and adaptable to changing demands.
Bandwidth Management: Implement bandwidth management solutions to prioritize critical business applications and ensure optimal network performance, even during peak usage periods.
Cloud-Based WLAN Management: Consider adopting cloud-based WLAN management platforms that provide centralized control and scalability. These platforms simplify network administration and monitoring.
Security Policies: As you expand, review and update your security policies to address new challenges and threats. Ensure that security measures remain effective in safeguarding your growing network.
Guest Networks: If you anticipate more guest users, enhance your guest network to accommodate increased traffic. Implement guest network solutions that offer easy onboarding and isolation from your main network.
Future Planning: Plan for future expansion when upgrading your WLAN infrastructure. Invest in equipment and technologies that can scale to meet your evolving needs without requiring a complete overhaul.
Assess Current NeedsRegularly evaluate your business’s wireless networking needs, considering factors like user count and coverage areas, to identify areas for expansion.
Additional Access PointsIf your business space grows or experiences high user density, consider adding more access points strategically for seamless coverage.
Mesh NetworkingExplore mesh networking solutions that use interconnected access points to create a broader and more adaptable WLAN to meet changing demands.
Bandwidth ManagementImplement bandwidth management solutions to prioritize critical business applications and maintain optimal network performance, even during peak usage.
Cloud-Based WLAN ManagementConsider cloud-based WLAN management platforms for centralized control and scalability, simplifying network administration and monitoring processes.
Security PoliciesReview and update security policies to address new challenges and threats as your business expands, ensuring continued effectiveness in safeguarding your network.
Guest NetworksEnhance guest networks to accommodate increased traffic if more guest users are expected, implementing solutions for easy onboarding and network isolation.
Future PlanningPlan for future expansion when upgrading WLAN infrastructure, investing in scalable equipment and technologies to meet evolving needs without a complete overhaul.
In today’s digital age, a reliable and efficient Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) is an indispensable tool for businesses of all sizes. Whether you operate a small startup or a growing enterprise, the right WLAN can enhance productivity, support diverse devices, and streamline your operations.
By carefully selecting a WLAN solution tailored to your business needs, prioritizing security, and planning for future growth, you can harness the power of online connectivity to maximize your business’s potential. A well-designed and well-maintained WLAN not only improves your daily operations but also sets the stage for long-term success in the digital landscape.
Investing in a robust WLAN infrastructure is an investment in your business’s connectivity, efficiency, and competitiveness. Embrace the opportunities it offers, secure it diligently, and adapt it as your business grows to unlock its full potential.
Incorporate these insights into your business strategy, and you’ll find that a well-implemented WLAN can be a valuable asset that propels your business forward in today’s interconnected world.
WLAN Photo via Shutterstock
This article, “What is a WLAN and Does My Small Business Need One?” was first published on Small Business Trends