Companies and institutions are increasingly citing the benefits of wireless LANs (WLANs) in small “hot spot” deployments throughout their organizations, such as in conference rooms, lobbies, and other areas where people might gather. Wireless LAN, more often referred to as “Wi-Fi,” enables organizations to take full advantage of their networked resources by extending the voice and data network to employees – everywhere and any time they need it.Although wireless LANs hold tremendous promise for the commercial buildings industry – offering the numerous advantages of high-speed Internet access; greater mobility; ease of installation; and flexibility for moves, adds, and changes to the network – the most frequent question facilities professionals ask is, “Can wireless (Wi-Fi) support real-time applications and provide the reliability that critical applications demand?”Yes, says Sarah Kim, marketing manager at Sunnyvale, CA-based Meru Networks (www.merunetworks.com), noting the availability of recently introduced technologies that far surpass the capabilities of traditional Wi-Fi systems. She offers the following in evaluating wireless networks ...Future-Proofing Your WLAN. The system should be reliable and flexible enough to support new applications. The ability to support business-critical WLAN applications (as opposed to nice-to-have Internet access) without significant future reinvestment is key to realizing a return on investment. Such applications as voiceover WLAN, which requires seamless handoffs and an over-the-air quality-of-service (QoS) mechanism, is a perfect example of a WLAN application that you may not want today, but might consider in the future. Questions to ask include:Can the WLAN grow to support increasing numbers of users?Will the network be able to support the latest applications, such as voice or video?Will it easily support upgrades to the current Wi-Fi standard?Total Cost of Ownership. When measuring the total cost of owning a WLAN, users should consider the operational aspects, as well as the capital expenditure. Choosing the right system will eliminate or reduce costs associated with site surveys, radio frequency (RF) monitoring, third-party products, and, of course, trouble tickets. Questions are:How simple is it to deploy, integrate, and configure the WLAN system?How easy is it to manage the system once it is in place?Is the WLAN system standards-based?Will I need additional solutions to support new applications or features?Flexible, Robust Security Framework. WLAN security has come a long way. New standards for encryption and authentication enable wireless users to have the same level of security as wired users. Nevertheless, the inherent characteristics of today’s “new” wireless (invisible operations, lack of physical location associated with access, almost no limit to number of users, etc.) presents new threats to network security. Organizations should look for WLAN solutions that deal with these weaknesses without having to replace or significantly alter existing security implementations. Ask the following:Does the WLAN support existing security infrastructure?Does it provide physical security? At what operational and capital cost?Does the WLAN easily support multiple security policies, including guest access?Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.