What can WLANs offer today, and what can’t they offer compared with a traditional network?
Grimm: WLANs can be installed and later uninstalled in buildings without an infrastructure or in exhibition booths quickly, flexibly, and economically. They use a technical infrastructure to offer secure access to groups of users like employees, guests, or service providers. They can be made as secure as a wired network. They enable mobile, flexible, and location-independent work. Nonetheless, WLANs are still subject to limited bandwidth. It’s impossible to guarantee the availability of a radio frequency because external factors can disturb a given frequency.
How do WLANs work?
Grimm: WLANs are based upon the IEEE 802.11b (transfer rate of 11 MB per second – Mbit/s) and 802.11g (transfer rate of 54 Mbit/s) standards. Wireless communication occurs between an access point to a wired network and a mobile end device (notebook, PDA, or tablet with a WLAN adapter). An interface integrated with the operating system handles communication with the radio signal. Data is transmitted over a 2.4 GHz frequency, so wireless LAN technology is appropriate inside and outside of buildings. Security functions are regulated with the software client.
What is the maximum physical coverage of a WLAN?
Grimm: Coverage depends less upon the technology than it does upon the quality and direction of the antennas. Furniture or dividing walls can disrupt the signal. A general rule for coverage in building is about 100 meters. But the number of users in the reception area of the access points is more important than the physical coverage. The thickness of the infrastructure and the number of access points should be tailored to the number of users.Can various WLANs located too closely to each other irritate each other?Grimm: Absolutely. When you set up a WLAN, you must ensure that the available frequency band of 2.4 GHz is available to a limited number of transmitting channels. That also means that neighboring WLANs or access points may overlay each other only to a limited extent – whether we’re talking about the same network or another network.
How is Lufthansa Systems positioned as a supplier in the international market for WLANs?
Grimm: Lufthansa Systems regards WLANs as an additional service that can supplement a traditional, wired infrastructure – or even replace it to some extent. The ability to guarantee a secure WLAN infrastructure means more than the end device and an access point. It also means the authentication systems and processes that work in the background. WLANs should be a fixed component of company networks. They can easily be installed along with LANs or WANs. Lufthansa Systems does not intend to position itself as a supplier of WLANs alone, but we do want to promote WLANs as components of our network portfolio.
What security risks exist for WLANs? How does Lufthansa Systems protect against these risks?
Grimm: The basic configuration of WLAN technology makes it rather insecure. Both completely unsecured WLANS – those without data encryption and user authentication – and simple security standards typically available on the market – WEP encryption, for example – are inappropriate for use in a corporate network. To make a WLAN secure, it’s not enough to protect the frequency from eavesdropping and protect against decryption. The integration of a WLAN with a corporate network means incorporation of the WLAN into the security design of the existing network. The security standard for corporate networks includes secure connection of radio frequencies and reliable user authentication.
Isn’t it more secure for a company to develop its own WLAN than to procure one from an external service provider?
Grimm: No. Because WLANs should be developed as a component of a corporate network, it’s more secure for a company to rely on the expertise of external specialists.
Who needs a WLAN besides a decision maker who travels frequently and is being courted by many parties?
Grimm: A WLAN already offers employees several new forms of work for their day-to-day activities: project teams can work flexibly in project or meeting rooms or even at the desk of a colleague. Temporary employees like external consultants have quick access to the resources they need. Places where employees congregate, such as cafeterias, can function as mobile offices. For example, the Lufthansa training center in Seeheim, Germany, has a WLAN infrastructure that enables employees to access the corporate network during training, and the facility has some 400 beds. Guests, customers, and vendors all have separate access to the Internet and their own corporate resources.
Can the costs of a WLAN be assigned to specific users?
Grimm: The operation of a WLAN infrastructure generates costs for the end devices and the network infrastructure. The costs of end devices, such as those for administering a user account, installing software, or configuring an end device, can easily be transferred to each user. The costs of the infrastructure (network components like access points, for example) can be assigned to specific users only with difficulty. And it’s an even more difficult situation for corporate WLANS because their greatest benefits are experienced when users work in unusual areas of the company. That’s why Lufthansa Systems uses a broad-based WLAN infrastructure whose costs can be apportioned to the total number of users.