A Wireless Office
Learn how to put a wireless system to work in your office.
By Richard Hom, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Last month, we talked about the size of the wireless market, what it encompasses and the different types of wireless systems. This month, we're going to rely on some of the terms we learned last month, so if you're having trouble remembering, just refer back to the October issue.
A wireless connection between two local area networks (LANs) is either public or private. It's public if you have to use a public carrier to transmit your data traffic over a backbone network before it gets to your second office. If you don't use a public carrier, then it's a private connection.
Linking two offices
ILLUSTRATION BY ALAN
Say you want to connect your two offices so you can send and receive patient data and other information between the two locations. The first thing you want to check on is whether your area has access to a digital subscriber line (DSL) or cable.
These two broadband connections use wireline. Currently, fixed rather than mobile wireless systems can accommodate broadband.
As a consultant for public and academic libraries, Eric Egipciaco, director of engineering at NSI, Inc. in Illinois, believes that a site survey is essential to determine if there are any line-of-sight or radio interference problems. Matching the correct equipment to the physical setup is mandatory. Close attention to manufacturer compatibility and compliance with federal, state and local regulations and statutes will speed deployment of your wireless communication system. Typically, you would have your consultant make sure that the deployment is compliant with these regulations.
Uniting one office
Another practical use of a wireless system is connecting computers within one office. This saves you the trouble of having to go to one computer in your office to access specific information. When all of the computers are linked together, you can access information from any of them.
When you connect two computers (or systems) in two different locations, you're using a wireless LAN, or WLAN. This type of system uses a much smaller antenna (it doesn't require a dish antenna) and power source. Its distance is shorter and is typically limited to approximately 100 feet. Because much of the growth in wireless is in the area of WLANs, many new products have entered the market to specifically focus on the connectivity within a building.
Products that connect computers to each other to form a LAN have received much visibility in the press. Most of these products are either inserted as an interface card that fits within the case of a desktop computer or within the card-like slot (called PCMCIA or Cardbus) on the side of a notebook computer. These cards contain a small radio transceiver that connects to a station that coordinates the connections of all other computers in WLAN.
WLAN vs. LAN
With a WLAN, you can change the locations of your computers without rerouting cables. Adding a workstation is straightforward and doesn't require additional cabling. And you can eliminate unsightly and intrusive cabling. Current WLANs can theoretically pass data through the network at speeds of up to 11 Mbps. Most often, though, the speed ranges from 1 to 4 Mbps, which is okay.
The type of wireless system you choose will depend on the construction of your building and its rooms, its location, the number of users in each room and the state of your present computer equipment. To increase the likelihood of a successful installation, make sure you consult the manuals of both the WLAN and computer manufacturers for possible software and compatibility issues.
It's possible that in the future, we'll be able to connect our office computer systems immediately to miniature computers that carry the complete medical history of the carrier. We'll be able to exchange and update data in an instant.
Worth of wireless
I hope you've learned something useful from these last two columns. For those of you venturing into this area, you'll see many benefits: the flexibility of workstation location, the absence of unsightly network cable and the easy addition of new computers to the network. Once you implement this technology in your office, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.
DR. HOM HAS A RICH BACKGROUND IN E-COMMERCE. HE CURRENTLY PRACTICES PART TIME IN SAN FRANCISCO, CARING EXCLUSIVELY FOR COMPLICATED CONTACT LENS PATIENTS. HE'S ALSO A PARTNER AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER FOR NETWORK APPLIANCE IN SUNNYVALE, CALIF.
Optometric Management, Issue: November 2001