Setting Up Wi-Fi for a Small Business

By Eric Geier

July 22, 2011

We share tips on the main tasks involved with setting up a wireless network for a small business or organization. We discuss planning, hardware, security and file sharing.

If you want to set up a wireless network at your small business, one of the first things you need to understand is the difference between a wireless router and a wireless access point, commonly just called an AP.

A wireless router is designed for the smallest deployments: homes and small offices. It provides Internet sharing and network services. An AP lacks these features and simply provides wireless access. A traditional network requires a wired or wireless router. Then if additional wireless network coverage is needed, APs can be added to the network throughout the building.

Define the Wireless Network Coverage Area

First determine where you need Wi-Fi coverage. Are there some computers that will be wired to the network, and thus do not need wireless? Are there specific areas where you want better signals?

Once you know the area you want to cover, try to determine how many wireless access points (APs) you'll need to adequately cover it. If you're working with 1,500 or fewer square feet, you'll probably need only one AP that's placed near the middle of the coverage area. But the distance of signals depend upon the layout of the coverage area, construction of the building and walls, size of the rooms and the furniture inside them.

If you think you need multiple APs, do a simple site survey. Move a wireless router or AP around the coverage boundaries and come up with rough spots where you should install them. Use a laptop to walk around to see where the signal drops. You'll want the signal from each AP to overlap the signal from the others, so there's a good signal throughout the building. Overlapping is fine if you use different channels (1, 6 or 11) for each overlapping AP.

Consider the Cabling

If you're installing more than a single wireless router, you'll have to run Ethernet cabling from the router out to each AP. Calculate the cost and consider what it will take to hide unsightly cabling.

You also may consider hard wiring computers to the router if you're going to be doing a lot of sharing and transferring of files among the other local computers.

Check for Wireless Clients

Make sure each computer you want on the wireless network has a Wi-Fi adapter. Additionally, check which 802.11 wireless standards and speeds it supports. We'll discuss that in more detail next.

Choose a Wireless Standard

When evaluating or purchasing wireless adapters, routers or APs, consider the 802.11 standards and speeds they support. There's 802.11b at 11 Mbps, 802.11g at 54 Mbps, 802.11a at 54 Mbps, and/or 802.11n at 450+ Mbps.

Each standard (except A) is interoperable with the others. For maximum 802.11n speeds and performance, you want to only use 802.11n for both the computers and clients, too. Some 802.11a and/or 802.11n wireless routers and APs are dual-band. This means they can use the 5GHz airwaves, which are less congested than the 2.4GHz band.

Consider Wireless Internet for Visitors

If you want to offer Wi-Fi for your visitors, customers or the public, consider a wireless router or APs that makes this easier. There are wireless routers on the market that have a guest feature that offers a separate Wi-Fi signal for public access, so your private network remains secure. Examples include D-Link's DIR-655 and the Valet from Linksys.

If you're using multiple APs, consider those that support virtual LANs (VLANs) and multiple SSIDs. But you also need a router or switch that supports VLANs. Routers that you that you could consider include  DD-WRT, RouterOS or Zeroshell. However, to make it easier you could limit public access to a wireless router and the APs would be just for the private network.

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