Let's say you have a home office or small business office. You want to impress clients with a high-tech space that's completely clear of clutter – and wires. How do you ditch all those cables and cords to get all your equipment wirelessly connected?
With Wi-Fi capabilities, Bluetooth, and a good router, setting up a wireless office isn't all that difficult. But it does mean starting with the right devices.
What's the most important purchase?
I asked two technology experts who know about the small business world, my colleagues Fahmida Y. Rashid and Samara Lynn, what is the most essential item to purchase before setting up a wireless office.
"The most important piece of equipment is the router. Without one, there is no network," says Rashid. True enough. For a small office with only a few employees (or just one) the router is the hub of all the activity.
"Depending on your setup you may have to buy your own router, or the ISP may provide one for you. If you have DSL, you need a router to connect to the modem. Some ISPs provide a DSL modem with a built-in router," says Rashid.
The router must support Wi-Fi, although a few other features will come in handy, too. "I personally have no preference about 802.11ac or 802.11n or whatever, but any small business should have a router that lets you turn on the firewall. That's just basic security," says Rashid.
"I would recommend a router with VPN, and QoS for fine tuning traffic such as VoIP for telephony purposes such as Skype," adds Lynn. Routers that Lynn recommends for small businesses include the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router (R7000) and Asus RT-AC66U Dual Band 3x3 802.11ac Gigabit Router. She also likes the Cisco RV110W Wireless-N VPN Firewall.
If you need a refresher on how to configure the device itself, Lynn has a wonderful article and video (below) that explains how to set up a wireless router step-by-step.
Setting up the router as the hub for all networked activity happens in six basic steps:
- Connect the router
- Get to the router's interface via a web browser and lock down your settings
- Change the default password, and configure the other security settings and IP addressing
- Configure DHCP Reservation, if you're using a NAS (see the next section)
- Set up sharing and other controls
- Set up user accounts for you and your employees
Lynn has more pointers on how to buy a wireless router in this article. She also has some advice on whether you need 802.11ac, because not everyone does (if you do, you might want to cast your eye over our 802.11ac wireless router group test).
The second most important piece of equipment, according to Rashid, is a NAS or some kind of fileserver that everyone in the office can access wirelessly. A NAS can be a separate device, or it can come included as a feature in your router.
"You don't want to be sharing a computer and allowing multiple people to access each other's hard drives," she says. To be wirelessly connected to the NAS from a desktop computer (rather than a laptop or mobile device), you might need to buy a USB wireless dongle that allows your machine to get on the network.
For a small or micro business, a NAS is a better option than, say, a storage area network (SAN) device because a NAS is usually less complicated to set up and requires less configuration and technical know-how.
Another recommended piece of equipment that Lynn suggests is a high quality hands-free headset that lets you make and take phone calls wirelessly, and without putting your mobile phone to your face.
Another consideration for small business owners is the ability to hot-desk, or use a voice bridge that enables calls to a landline or primary phone number to route to another device wirelessly wherever you go. A new device coming to market soon from Swissvoice called Voice Bridge serves this purpose while also integrating contacts listed in your mobile phone.
For an even simpler solution, those in the US can use Google Voice. "Google Voice works particularly well for home office," Rashid says. "You can forward the phone number to landlines, mobile phones, or switch between the two. With a good USB headset, you can make calls from your computer, too."
Printer, scanner, fax?
Another piece of equipment that could be central to your wireless office might be a multi-function printer – or perhaps not. "A wireless printer is not that necessary," Rashid says, "since many NAS devices will act as a print server, so you can just plug in the printer and voilà – you can access it wirelessly. Not that it hurts to network a wireless printer. If worst comes to worst, you can directly attach a printer to a computer, and then turn on Windows printer sharing."
As you buy equipment and set it up in your wireless office, Lynn recommends being mindful of two things: Security and the future growth of your business.
On the security front, make sure any apps you use take advantage of HTTPS and encrypt your data. As for growth, look for equipment that gives you room to expand your business, such as an expandable NAS that lets you add more storage capacity, or a high-end router that won't become obsolete in a year or two when you could have ten employees rather than just two.