Networking a Small Business Office from Scratch - Page 2

By Joseph Moran
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Let's Talk Wi-Fi Networks

It’s always good to have Wi-Fi, so that workers can roam within the office with notebooks or tablets. (Not to mention smartphones—configuring them to use the office Wi-Fi network can help reduce the use of pricey cellular data.) To guard against eavesdropping, just be sure to use WPA2 security with a long, strong passphrase. Better yet, for the utmost in wireless security you can upgrade to WPA2-Enterprise.

If your office is relatively small, the Wi-Fi access point built into your router/firewall should give you adequate coverage. If not you may have to add extra Wi-Fi access points, such as the D-Link DWL-6600AP, to your network.

Small business networking: Wi-Fi interference

When your Wi-Fi access points (or those of an adjacent business) interfere with each other, Metageek’s InSSIDer Office can help you pinpoint and straighten out the troublesome areas.

However, it can be a challenge to ensure that your access points don't interfere with each other (or the access points of adjacent businesses) due to overlapping use of 2.4 GHz wireless channels. In this scenario, Metageek’s InSSIDer for Office can help by exposing how multiple Wi-Fi networks may be competing for the same frequencies.  

Using 5 GHz-capable Wi-Fi hardware greatly reduces the potential for interference, but it’s not a panacea. The 5 GHz signals have a shorter range than 2.4 GHz, so you’ll likely need more access points to cover the same space. Moreover, 5 GHz support is not standard on most notebooks; in some cases it’s an optional upgrade, in others, simple not available (other than via a bulky external adapter).

Network Printers

The Paperless Office has still not come to pass for most small businesses, nor is it likely to in the near future. Thus, a network-connected printer (or multifunction unit with scan, copy, and possibly fax capabilities) is a necessity for almost any office. Almost all printers—even low-end sub $100 models—come with built-in Wi-Fi, but it’s worth it to go upmarket a bit to find models that also include Ethernet connectivity, such as the HP Officejet 8600 Plus. (Ethernet is easier to set up and generally offers a more reliable connection.) 

When shopping for a multifunction printer, look for one that can scan documents directly to a shared folder or a to an email address; this can save you the trouble of having to install the printer’s software on all of your computers. And if you expect to need to print from smartphones or tablets, choose a printer that supports Apple’s AirPrint, Google’s Cloud Print, or a vendor-specific mobile printing technology such as HP’s ePrint or Epson Connect. (Read more about printing from smartphones and tablets.)

Small Business Phone System

It wasn’t long ago when installing a phone system in an office was a complicated and expensive proposition involving multiple analog phone lines and requiring a significant up-front investment for PBX equipment. Fortunately, thanks to VoIP-based phones, that’s no longer true.

Small business networking: VoIP phone systems

For (very) small offices, the Ooma Office is a powerful yet simple and inexpensive VoIP-based phone system.

Many ISPs now offer Internet-based office phone systems that provide a full range of advanced business-class features (e.g. auto-attendant, company directory, voicemail to email, etc.) without the need for an on-site PBX and that can be paid for monthly without any large initial outlay—though some ISPs may require a multi-year contract.

Even better, these phone systems are generally easily manageable via a Web browser, so routine administration chores (adding/removing extensions and other configuration changes) cost little time and no money.

Another option is to go with an independent phone system provider, such as RingCentral, which provide completely cloud-based service.

One caveat—although VoIP-based phone service is usually more powerful and less expensive than PSTN-based service it’s also more susceptible to call quality and reliability issues, so research carefully and try before you buy whenever possible. (Learn more about differences between the VoIP and PSTN).

If your office is small and you expect it to stay that way for some time, the Ooma Office is about as easy and inexpensive as office phone systems get (read our Ooma Office review). Note that when going with VoIP phone service, you may still need may need a few conventional phone lines for things such as alarm monitoring or fax machines.

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on August 22, 2013
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