Government warms up to wireless

For several years now, wireless LANs have proved viable for consumer use as a cheap and easy way to set up a home network or to get on the Web at a public hot spot. Security concerns scared off many government IT buyers, but in recent months, with those problems largely addressed through a slew of powerful new standards for user authentication and data encryption, wireless in the public sector has suddenly heated up.

Government agencies usually get into wireless to provide mobile access to their internal networks and the Internet, but increasingly they are using WLANs to add wireless Voice over IP to their telephony infrastructure, according to vendors.

Choose your architecture

In designing a wireless system, you can choose from two main architectural models. The older and better-established one relies on access points that connect directly to the wired Ethernet network and contain the wireless transmitter and antennas that broadcast a signal that receivers can pickup.

More recently, newer vendors have staked their claim on a radically different architecture called WLAN switching. It centralizes security and management in a network switch connected to "dumb" or "thin" access points that are little more than radio frequency transmitters whose purpose is to extend the network from the switch out to where the users need it.

The product listing shows APs, bridges, switches and a smattering of controllers and servers that have the performance, flexibility and security appropriate to enterprises. Represented are most of the major vendors that have significant sales to federal, state and local governments or a strong presence in comparable corporate markets. Excluded are the client-side adapters, PC Cards and other devices for getting your computer on the WLAN.

One or a combination of these products will likely fit your WLAN needs.

David Essex is a freelance technology writer in Antrim, N.H.

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