Wireless in the enterprise
Will wireless work for you?
While Indian enterprises haven't really been swept away by
the Wi-Fi storm, many have used the technology in a productive manner. Here's
how companies have benefited from wireless, and also a look at the various technology
nuances. by Soutiman Das Gupta
The Wi-Fi storm brewed a couple of years ago and made many promises to the
Indian enterprise. But was it all just a storm in a teacup? Though it was touted
as the 'next big thing' for enterprises, not many Indian companies actually
put their money into this technology.
While some LAN user segments, like educational institutes and the hospitality
industry openly embraced Wi-Fi, enterprises have been slower to get on the bandwagon.
But a number of Indian enterprises have found innovative ways to use Wi-Fi and
other wireless technologies in their networks. And these implementations allow
the user companies to save time, manpower, financial resources, and ultimately
LG Electronics India Ltd., runs business-critical applications like an internal
ERP system and Lotus Notes, and provides Internet access to its plant and executive
employees through its Wi-Fi infrastructure.
The goal is to improve collaboration between employees within the manufacturing
plant which leads to better decision making to help meet their deadlines,
said Arindam Bose, Head IT of the organization.
The 802.11b solution was deployed in its 47 acre campus in Noida. Other than
saving time and resources, Bose feels that the Wi-Fi solution takes care of
cable management, which is a hassle and cost-intensive area.
Sumul Dairy in Gujarat, which is a part of the Surat District Cooperative Milk
Producers' Union Limited, is a big believer in the benefits of Wi-Fi. It deployed
12 Access Points (APs) in its two square Km (approx.) large campus and shares
mission-critical data within the internal departments like the boardroom, veterinary
department, by-products department, finished products sections, artificial insemination
department, and the ERP servers.
The company has benefited a lot in areas of cost, and reduction of monitoring
and maintenance issues, says Satyen Naik, Assistant Manager (IS) of the
company. Other than the campus, the company uses Wi-Fi links to connect to its
two cattle feed factories more than 14 Kms away and its chilling center 33 Kms
P&O Ports in Navi Mumbai (near Mumbai) uses heavy moving cranes to load
cargo on the ships and remote controls them with the use of Wi-Fi technology.
These cranes were earlier controlled from base stations more than 100 meters
away, through wires which would at times get cut due to the movement of the
To address the issue, The organization used 802.11b technology to connect the
cranes to the base stations. And now, the cranes enjoy unhindered movement in
the port. Although the range of an 802.11b Wireless LAN (WLAN) is 35 meters
indoors and 100 meters in the open, the range in this case was extended by strategic
placement of antennae and wireless APs.
Jindal Strips Limited, a part of a steel conglomerate in Haryana wanted to connect
its Cold Roll Division with its HR and Administration Division. The two division's
offices were across the road, but had a railway track planted squarely in between
The company first used optic fiber links, but they were not very useful because
the roads were continuously dug up for repairs and the intense heat from the
furnaces was too harsh on the fiber.
The company deployed an 11 Mbps WLAN building-to-building bridge, omni-direction
antenna, and other Wi-Fi equipment at the premises. The connectivity links are
now always up, and allows the company to share vital business data without downtime.
In the area of e-governance, the Guntur collectorate in Andhra Pradesh needed
to be connected to the Andhra Pradesh State-Wide Area Network (APSWAN). This
would help improve communication ties for better government back-office operations.
Since leased lines were not easily available, the government decided to use
WLAN links to transmit the necessary information.
Not too popular yet
Wi-Fi brings about newer areas of business applications like real-time inventory
control, fleet management, warehouse management, and Voice over WLAN (VoWLAN).
And the use of Wi-Fi has a number of advantages. The time for deployment is
less, there is no need to dig up land to lay expensive cable, it provides mobility,
and makes operations more flexible.
Although Wi-Fi has moved out of the hypothetical to become a reality for many
enterprises, there are a number of reasons why Wi-Fi is not very popular as
yet. They are lack of strategy, security concerns, linear scaling issues, standards
issues, and cost.
The strategic use of Wi-Fi
A significant reason why the potential of Wi-Fi technologies has not yet
been exploited very well in an enterprise is that most user companies conceptualize
a wireless network as a separate entity, or as an 'add-on' for information access,
explains V.K. Ramani, President IT, UTI Bank.
The correct strategy for the use of wireless technologies is to build a fully
integrated network with a single set of services. Even the site planning for
access points, needs to be done after you take the actual services into account.
The user company can plug access points into either a WLAN switch or an appliance
that sits either in front of or behind an existing Ethernet switch that essentially
allows the access points to communicate with each other through management software.
Security in mid-air
Opening up company data to the air waves introduces a range of security concerns
especially in large environments with numerous APs that cover a wide area. The
reason is that, the control over the network becomes decentralized, and it is
an issue to enforce an organization's security policy at these distributed points.
Security breaches opens an organization to Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks
where a user of any WLAN-enabled device can tap into the airwaves. It's important
to monitor each connection all the time for anomalies. The use of point-to-point
VPNs can address some security issues.
Satyen Naik, Assistant Manager (IS) of Sumul Dairy says, Security management
is an important issue. We use 128-bit encryption, anti-Denial of Service infrastructure,
NAT firewalls, Mac address-based access control, and password authentication
to make our network secure.
The original security enabler Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is not entirely
secure since it uses a static key which can be cracked with off-the-shelf tools.
These concerns have been addressed by the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) security
specification developed by the IEEE in conjunction with the Wi-Fi Alliance.
WPA provides strong data encryption to correct WEP weaknesses, and adds user
authentication, which was missing.
Interference and load balancing
WLAN transmission can be prone to interference issues like Radio Frequency Interference
(RFI) and ElectroMagnetic Interference (EMI) from other devices, and even cordless
phones and microwave ovens. And this issue is especially relevant in factory
floors where various heavy equipment are likely to produce interference.
In cases like these, the APs should be moved as far away from the source of
interference as possible. In the case of LG Electronics, Arindam Bose says,
Designing the architecture for the Wi-Fi was a smooth process as the area
in the plant is wide and open and our office has a clean environment. Setting
up the APs and other devices was a simple task.
If a particular area sees less useage of the AP but another
location is near overload. A good move is to shift the less-used AP nearer to
the busy location to ensure better load balancing.
Switch off problems
In order to extend a LAN, an organization can deploy a LAN switch, which is
usually easy to deploy and it is possible to add new devices to an existing
LAN with little trouble.
But it's not easy to do the same with a WLAN since it's analog, has interference
issues, and doesn't have much linear scaling capability. As more APs are added
to the backbone, they have to be configured one at a time. This raises management
A way to combat these issues is to use a combination of WLAN switches and subscriber
management software. The switches will handle tasks that would normally be dealt
with separately at individual APs, like security, data encryption, management,
and allocation of available bandwidth to individual users. And consequently,
this will give APs the power to be aware of the network, as well as the user.
Strategic placement of APs and antennae will help extend the range of a WLAN
to a considerable extent.
Many standards and some licenses
The most popular standard for Wi-Fi communication today is 802.11b, which allows
11 Mbps bandwidth in the 2.4 Ghz spectrum. And most organizations with WLAN
use this standard. The user organization does not need any special license to
use an 802.11b solution if the infrastructure is within the company's campus.
But if the Wi-Fi transmission is beyond the campus an organization needs a license
from the Wireless Planning & Coordination (WPC) Wing of the Ministry of
Communications and IT.
Its close cousin, 802.11a allows 54 Mbps in the 5 Ghz spectrum and is backward
compatible with 802.11b. A few vendors have also started to manufacture equipment
based on his standard. But the Indian government does not allow transmission
in this wavelength.
Other standards like 802.11 e,f,g,h, and i do not have too many supporting products
and equipment as yet. And it's not clear if there will be issues of compatibility
and interoperability. A scenario like this makes enterprises hesitant to invest
in a particular technology as it brings doubts about obsolescence and future
Cost and deployment time
The total cost of APs and wireless network adapters for each user may or may
not be higher than that of wired infrastructure depending on the specific needs
of an enterprise. However the prices of WLAN infrastructure have fallen over
the last four quarters. An AP is now available for as low as Rs 4,000.
As of now, the cost of Wi-Fi is rather high when compared to that of a
wired network. But if you consider the benefits like flexibility and mobility,
the cost is justified, sys V.K. Ramani, President IT, at UTI Bank.
WLANs are very cost effective in environments which do not permit laying of
new cables like in a leased premise, heritage site, and a shop floor where manufacturing
equipment has already been deployed in an assembly. And since the deployment
time of a WLAN is also much lesser than that of a wired infrastructure, it is
preferred by many organizations.
The cost of a wireless link, as a last-mile is definitely more than that
of an OFC link, if the distance is only a few hundred meters. But for distances
above 500 meters, a Wi-Fi link could be preferred, both for cost-advantage as
well as for less deployment time, said Prakash Chaukar, General Manager,
BSES Infrastructure Ltd.
Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at
|Voice over WLAN (VoWLAN), or in other words telephony
over a wireless link is set to become a popular application for enterprises.
The application can improve group communications, reduce call costs within
offices, and perhaps replace pagers.
Sumul Dairy, a 425 Crore organization which is a manufacturing unit for
Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Limited, uses 802.11b links
to connect its Head Office with units in remote locations in Gujarat.
The link is used to transmit Oracle database, IP Camera,
and e-mail information. The company has also procured a license to allow
voice communication and set up a voice gateway to make VoWLAN possible.
Satyen Naik - EDP Manager, of the organization is pleased with the performance
of the infrastructure and says, Leased lines are not reliable at remote
locations, and our telephone bills were very high. The VoWLAN solution is
very cost-effective and reliable. In the near future, we plan to implement
Video Conferencing facilities on the same network.
A research team of Media Lab Asia (MLA) has created an 85 km-long multi
hop wireless corridor between Kanpur and Lucknow, called the Digital Gangetic
Plain. It uses the 802.11b protocol and uses VoIP technology to provide
the rural population access to Internet-based applications and low cost
Although VoWLAN technology is suitable for large enterprises, it could be
around three years before the technology is cheap enough to adopt in small
|Sometimes it happens that, a useful technology has been
around for a while, and many companies are eager to deploy, but there aren't
enough products and solutions to chose from. But this year, Wi-Fi product
manufacturers have made a number of products and solutions available in
the Indian market. And these organizations have made aggressive strategies
to push the use of Wi-Fi in Indian enterprises.
Networking majors like Cisco, Intel, D-Link, and 3Com have introduced a
broad range of offerings. Cisco for instance has Access Points, wireless
bridges, workgroup bridges, antennas, client adapters, and other accessories.
D-Link and 3Com are also ready with products in similar areas.
Cisco believes that the demand for mobility and its flexibility will fuel
the demand for Wi-Fi connectivity. Enterprises especially will need remote
access to broadband. Ease of use and convenience will be the major reasons.
Besides, prices of WLAN products have fallen by around 50 percent in 2002,
and further by 20 percent in 2003.
The company also believes that a large percentage of Indians will access
the Internet for the first time courtesy a Wi-Fi network. Proof of that
are the increasing Wi-Fi deployments in Rural India in Maharastra, Uttar
Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh among others.
Intel has already introduced Centrino, which includes the Intel Pentium
M processor, the Intel 855 chipset family, and the Intel PRO/Wireless 2100
network connection. Laptop and Notebook makers can use this architecture
to wireless-enable their products in the market. Individual users will not
need to make an extra investment.
The company's next mobile chipset, code-named 'Grantsdale' will include
a software-based wireless access point as part of the 'Prescott' processor.
Bullish about Wi-Max
Intel is bullish about 802.16 technology, also called WiMAX, which complements
WLAN by connecting 802.11 hot spots to the Internet and provides a wireless
alternative for last-mile broadband connectivity to businesses and homes.
The company believes that wireless service providers and telecommunication
equipment industries will use WiMAX technology due to its cost advantage
to provide last-mile connectivity. The vision outlined by Intel includes
delivery of standards-based silicon for both WLAN networking and cost-effective
and interoperable 802.16 WMAN hardware.
In India, Intel has set up a Wi-Fi test network for a large telecom company.
The results will be out in a couple of months.
SME and SOHO
There's good news for companies in the SME and SOHO segment. Vendors such
as Linksys will launch economically priced products like a wireless broadband
router with in-built access point functionality, a 802.11g wireless print
server, a wireless presentation player, and an 802.11g USB adapter.
This will help service providers drive broadband into the SME, SOHO, and
also the home segment.
|802.11g - Establishes an additional modulation technique for 2.4 Ghz band.
Intended to provide speed up to 54 Mbps.
802.11e - Address quality of service requirements for all IEEE WLAN radio
802.11i - Enhancing wireless with security that is stronger and better suited
802.11k - Is set to make more efficient use of WLAN resources through feedback
from clients. It will enable switches and access points to make better roaming
decisions, thus providing faster and uninterrupted wireless service.
802.11f - Defines inter-access point communications to facilitate multiple
vendor-distributed WLAN networks.