Killer WLAN Applications

By Jim Geier

April 03, 2003

Not sure why you should install a wireless LAN? Learn about applications that provide significant reasons why a WLAN makes sense to deploy.

Wireless LANs are useful for a wide range of applications. There are some applications, however, that are more effective and efficient than others. Let's take a look at several "killer applications," which are convincing situations that prompt the use of WLANs.

Sharing Internet Access

The most compelling reason to install a WLAN is to share a single high-speed Internet connection. This ability can benefit almost anybody, from the enterprise businessman to the college student to the person surfing the Web at home. The use of a WLAN to share a high-speed Internet connection allows the user to stay mobile and save money, because there are no wires to buy or install.

One example of a WLAN for this purpose is within a small office or home setting. Every member of a family or small business can easily share a single high speed connection through the use of a cable/DSL modem, router, access point (or wireless router), and radio-equipped end user devices. This is very convenient and saves money because everybody can simultaneously have access to a single connection and roam anywhere in the house or office.

A WLAN increases the flexibility of the network because you can add new workstations at any time without having to run cable. The relocation of workstations, along with any printers or servers, is also very easy. WLANs also provide a high level of convenience in a larger enterprise environment because guests and corporate visitors with wireless devices can quickly connect to the network with very little configuration.

Transmitting Voice over WLANs

The use of a WLAN to transmit voice is a great solution when people need to constantly be in contact with each other. WLAN phones, which work just like cell phones when they are in the coverage of the WLAN, are very useful in places where workers are moving around. Some examples of WLAN phone solutions include the following:

  • Retail stores where employees can communicate with each other to locate certain clothes for a customer and/or check inventory.
  • Buildings where security guards can quickly call for onsite help, the police or an ambulance.
  • Schools that need constant communications with teachers and custodians.
  • Hotels where staff members are spread out on different floors and need to respond quickly to requests.
The most attractive aspects of WLAN phones are that they carry no monthly fee for use and there is no major installation associated with them (assuming a WLAN is already in place). While the phones themselves are a little expensive at an average cost of about $475, they are still only about half the per phone cost of an equivalent wired system because they do not require any installation or wires. Conversely, a single wired phone usually runs about $900, which includes the phone and installation of wires.

Managing Manufacturing and Inventory

Many businesses benefit from using WLANs to manage their manufacturing processes. This lowers operating costs. Because the connections between the manufacturing equipment and main control systems are wireless, the company can reconfigure the assembly process at any time from anywhere, saving time and money.

A WLAN can also track and update inventory in real-time, enabling efficiency and accuracy to increase dramatically. In a retail environment, as soon as a clerk purchases or stocks a product, a wireless management solution can update the inventory. In the manufacturing environment, WLANs can keep the raw materials and finished product statistics up-to-date. Employees equipped with wireless-enabled bar code scanners can check or change product prices and/or check the number in stock.

The improved accuracy provided by using a WLAN to manage inventory creates a chain reaction of benefits. Because the clerks enter the information directly into the main computer via handheld scanners, there is no paperwork to deal with. This significantly reduces human error when entering data, which leads to very accurate financial records. This is important to manufacturing companies because accurate financial records ensure correct taxes are paid and fines (and possible law suits) are kept to a minimum.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers workshops on deploying WLANs.

Join Jim for discussions as he answers questions in the 802.11 Planet Forums.

Originally published on .

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