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WLANs: One Size Does Not Fit All

Small and midsize enterprises that investigated Wi-Fi infrastructure gear even a year ago likely came away discouraged. Given a choice between high-priced, complex enterprise systems and bargain-basement standalone access points that even a 12-year-old could configure, we don't blame you for figuring that the rich get richer, the small get tethered to their desks.

In fact, you're not alone: Just half of businesses with fewer than 100 employees enjoy the benefits of wireless, according to a 2006 Forrester survey, compared with about 70% of companies with 500 to 1,000 workers. That's a competitive disadvantage that's tied to tech budget. When an already constrained support staff is desktop, network and application administration rolled into one, building—and securing—a WLAN is low on the priority list.

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That's unfortunate because well-managed Wi-Fi burnishes your professional image in the eyes of customers and partners. Meanwhile employees, used to having wireless at home and craving that mobility at work, may be tempted to take matters into their own hands, creating security holes by connecting open rogue APs to your network. And as 802.11n takes off, organizations that haven't made even initial forays into WLAN deployment will fall behind as the competition increasingly goes wireless.

WLAN Image Gallery: scorecard, features chart, pricing chart and more.

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Our advice: Today's 802.11a/g technology is more than sufficient for most environments. Get moving with one of the systems we've tested, and by the time your bandwidth needs grow or your user base gets dense enough to benefit from 802.11n's throughput enhancements, second-generation, standardized 11n gear will be available. And, you'll have a feel for your site and architecture requirements.

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