Plan and Project Your Wireless LAN in 3-D

A wireless network isn’t just cool technology for technology’s sake; it can help make your workforce more flexible, responsive and productive. And we’re not the only ones who say so. According to a Gartner Group report entitled Wireless LANS Add Value to SMB Applications, “use and planning by small and mid-sized businesses indicates that approximately 30 percent of small businesses with fewer than 100 employees and 43 percent of midsize businesses with 100 to 999 employees deploy or will implement WLANS.” That last statistic will increase to 60 percent by 2005.

However, cutting your employees’ Cat-5 umbilical cord &#151 otherwise known as installing a Wi-Fi network &#151 can be a complex adventure, and it’s wise to plan ahead as proactively as possible. One tool you might find helpful is Wireless Valley’s LanPlanner SE, a software program designed for small-to-midsize businesses.

LanPlanner lets you create 3-D models of your office, building or campus to design, deploy, monitor and maintain your wireless network. According to John Jacobs, director of product marketing at Wireless Valley, buying and installing your own wireless system (even if you have IT personnel) isn’t very efficient. “We’ve seen businesses put together wireless networks on an ad hoc basis,” says Jacobs. “Typically the IT department buys the equipment, places the access points in the building and is left hoping it all works. LanPlanner eliminates the guesswork.”

How Predictable
The software program lets you import your office design plans &#151 anything from electronic CAD drawings and image files to paper blue prints or fire exit maps &#151 to create a 3-D scale model of your office or building space. According to the company, it takes 12 minutes to model a four-floor office building from CAD drawings.

FileMaker Task 2.0
Areas of color predict total wireless coverage. Red equals the strongest signal.

Once you’ve generated the model, you can then assign up to 25 APs (access points) per building using the auto-placement wizard, and the software accurately calculates and graphically displays the coverage and power of each access point. You can manually go through various “what-if” situations by clicking-and-dragging the access points around the space in real time to instantly see the coverage areas. The software also tells you how much equipment you need, optimal placement and the necessary power and channel configurations.

Radio Gaga
Wi-Fi networks rely on RF (radio frequency), and RF broadcasts in every direction. LanPlanner’s 3-D modeling lets you see where the signal travels through walls, ceilings, floors, and even areas where the signal leaks outside the building (especially important if your business requires compliance with HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley regulations that pertain to sensitive health care and financial data, respectively). The software lets you add various types of antennas (directional, omni-directional and beam) to see which ones minimize signal leakage.

Obstacles influence the strength of RF signals, and some affect the signal more than others. Consider just a sample of what you might contend with: cubicle walls, concrete block walls, reinforced concrete, elevators, metallic inventory racks, metal doors, glass doors and windows. LanPlanner takes the differences in building materials into account when calculating power needs.

LanPlanner SE runs in a mixed environment, so you can focus on buying equipment for the best price &#151 from Cisco, Proxim, NetGear or any other vendor &#151 without worrying about conflicts or compatibility issues. Wireless Valley sells the package for $4,995 and offers a variety of training and tech support options.

Lauren Simonds is managing editor of

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