Are Wireless Networks as Safe and Stable as Wired?

By Kerry Butters

Wireless networking has revolutionised the way that most LANs (Local Area Networks) are set up and used, but is it as safe and stable as a conventionally wired network?

The majority of SMEs have multiple PCs on site - the more personnel, the more computers they need, and usually, these computers have to be linked or networked. This is done in order to enable the PCs to share software programs and utilities that are essential and specific to any particular organisation’s business, and/or to be able them to get onto the Internet via one central point.

Wired LAN Cabling

Most of the new business premises that are built today often have network cabling preinstalled. Where premises are not prewired, then cable-trunking or “raceways” have to be installed to deliver the cabling neatly and safely, (trailing cables are a health and safety hazard) to the point of service. 

This obviously involves a cost, albeit not an overly large one. The biggest failing of many companies is short-sightedness. If cheap cabling is used in order to keep the cost down, or not enough outlets are included in the cabling, it can mean costly upgrades, or, in a worst case scenario, a complete rewiring may be necessary. Future proofing is always necessary when it comes to IT infrastructures.

Wireless LANs v Wired LANs

The advent of wireless networking, (commonly referred to as Wi-Fi), has given businesses a new option, and a way of avoiding having to have cabling in place, or having to have it installed. But many business owners are concerned as to which methodology is more stable, and more safe – wireless or wired.

Hard Wired into Stability

Wi-Fi has come a long way since it first came onto the scene back in 1991. It was designed by NCR and intended for use in its cashier system business. It is now much faster than it was in those early days; it’s had to be in order to handle the huge amounts for data we now push around.

But when it comes down to stability, you cannot beat an actual physical connection - unless that physical connection breaks of course. Then, depending on the nature of the break, locating and fixing it can be difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

However, serious, costly, breaks are few and far between. There are no moving parts to go wrong, other than the connectors on the spur boxes, and the PCs ports, and these only move when they are physically connected and disconnected.

Improved Wireless Stability

Most people would agree that a wired network is more stable than an unwired one. However, wireless technology has come a long way since it was first introduced, and so has PC/Laptop design and performance.  All of these factors mean wireless LANs are now much more stable than they once were. So whilst a wired network solution has an edge over unwired - that edge is now a fine one, depending on the size and nature of your intranet and organisation.

One of the biggest problems with wireless is the number of people sharing the wireless signal. The more there are, the slower the speed. But even that can be addressed by using or upgrading to more powerful, state of the art, routers that utilise 802.11ac protocols.

The Security Aspect of Unwired v Wired

Of all the debates that take place as to the pros and cons of wired or wireless LANs, the safety versus security argument is the one that gets the most airing. In the cold light of day, wired is more secure than unwired. It’s entirely logical when you stop to think about it. The only people who can tap into a hard wired network are the people physically there on the premises; and even then, they normally have to enter some sort of password depending on the security protocols that the IT support department imposes.

What’s good enough for the Pentagon....

But with a wireless network, potentially anybody within range of the signal can tap into it, and once they do, they may be able to access sensitive or confidential data. But as with anything to do with electronics, and computing in particular, things move pretty quickly. There are always new technologies being developed, and expertise marches on apace. The latest encryption for deployment on Wi-Fi or wireless networks is WPA2. Even the Pentagon relies on WPA2 encryption, (or so I’m told), and what’s good enough for them is probably good enough for anybody else.

The Best of Both Worlds

What most businesses tend to do today is to operate both wired and wireless delivery systems for their LANs. It’s an entirely logical decision. One of the biggest problems with having only a hard wired delivery system is - what happens when businesses take on addition staff, or have to deal with lots of visitors? This will depend on bandwidth and again, the size of organisation and cabling solution. With the increasing use of fibre optics and air blown cabling, options for the enterprise just keep on getting better.

Wireless also deals with the issue of mobility. BYOD schemes have enabled workforces to be much more productive as workers can connect to the office network via an internet connection using their own devices and access any data on the network, with the correct permissions and logins.