Evaluating 802.11 Performance and Security

Have you tried any 802.11b wireless networking devices? I'm thinking about a limited deployment at the office but am concerned about bandwidth and security.

No shortage of 802.11b wireless network equipment exists on the market today. If you're concerned about performance, consider 802.11a products. 802.11a operates on the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (UNII) 5.2GHz spectrum and supports speeds as fast as 72Mbps. 802.11b operates at 2.4GHz and supports speeds of no more than 10Mbps. SMC Networks claims that its SMC EZ Connect 802.11a Wireless Access Point (SMC2755W) supports speeds as fast as 72Mbps. My exposure to 802.11a wireless products is limited to what I've read on vendor Web sites.

SMC's and other vendors' wireless products support the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) algorithm for 64-bit, 128-bit, or 152-bit encryption. WEP has known security concerns, however. "More Information About WLAN Security," July 2002, InstantDoc ID 25038, provides details about 802.11 security and points to a description of Cisco Systems' wireless security approach, which is the best solution I know of. The IEEE 802.11 Task Group I hopes to complete a WEP replacement—the 802.11i Robust Security Network amendment—by midyear. In the meantime, the Wi-Fi Alliance has worked with the IEEE 802.11 Standards Working Group for Wireless Local Area Networks to deliver Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), an interim solution. Wi-Fi vendors should begin offering WPA upgrades to existing products this month.

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