• United States
by Kathryn Korostoff

The ROI of wireless LANs

May 19, 20034 mins
Network SecurityWi-Fi

Key points to consider when providing justification for wireless LAN investments.

ROI analysis for any technology typically involves calculations that show how a given solution saves money, makes money or both. Wireless LAN ROI analysis is no exception. However, the experiences reported by those who deploy it vary dramatically.

ROI analysis for any technology typically involves calculations that show how a given solution saves money, makes money or both. Wireless LAN ROI analysis is no exception. However, the experiences reported by those who deploy it vary dramatically.

In planning your WLAN ROI, you must address a few key questions:

•  Are you choosing between wireless and wired for a new LAN installation? Or are you deciding simply whether or not to add a WLAN to an existing wired LAN?

•  Are you deploying in isolated workgroups, or are you building an enterprise solution (which will require deploying access points not just for client connections but possible also for point-to-point links)?

•  How mobile are your employees? Do they need to move around frequently during the workday? Do they work in each other’s offices? Do they have working meetings where access to server-based applications can be important?

Hard questions

As these few questions show, the type of deployments vary a lot and can affect the potential ROI.

How many access points do you need? The number of access points varies with the number of end users and size of building. Different organizations use different rules of thumb, but typically the range is 10 to 20 end users per access point.

How much time will you spend planning and placing access points? The time spent placing access points varies with building specifications. Some network managers report that locating access points is a snap; others report that it can take time in their buildings because of building materials or placement/types of walls.

Additional benefits

In addition to employee time savings, WLAN users commonly experience harder-to-quantify sources of return. One such example is improved employee satisfaction. We often hear wireless-equipped employees talk about the satisfaction of being able to keep a meeting short by having access to applications or files while in a conference room. What employee wouldn’t value a technology that helps keep meetings short?

It’s all about image

Users often report even less tangible benefits. For example, consulting companies that want to project a technology-leading image to clients visiting their offices would want their clients to see laptop-equipped consultants accessing data whilst untethered. There is value in projecting an image. It’s just hard to quantify.

The many factors contributing to WLAN ROI vary from industry to industry, from company to company, and many of them are mutable.

When you consider your unique needs and those of your employees, you can more readily determine the if, and the when, of WLAN deployment.

Later this year something to consider is when Wi-Fi-compatible phones hit the market, it will add a new dimension to the WLAN ROI case. Stay tuned.

Costs vs. savings

These tables outline costs and savings/revenue generation for LANs.
WLAN costs
Hardware costs
Access points
Wireless network interface cards (for installation and extras for spares).
Software costs
Security or VPN software (some WLAN customers use VPNs to provide security on the wireless network).
Network planning (time spent to plan access point location, install and configure NICs).
Installation costs (time for either staff members or consultants)
Access point installation and configuration.
Enabling security (WEP, WPA, among others).
Ongoing maintenance costs
In addition to normal maintenance costs associated with networking, network managers report they spend time on a new activity: enforcing WLAN policies (including identification of rogue access points and making sure employees don’t share WEP keys).
WLAN savings/revenue generation
Network cabling
For new installations, choosing a WLAN reduces the amount of money spent on cabling. While some organizations installing WLANs also choose to install Category 5 cable to the desktop, some don’t. They might install Cat 5 only for certain workgroups, and might skip over conference rooms and meeting places. Thus, the amount of cable savings will vary. Still, between the cost of the cable itself and the cost of installation, savings can add up quickly.
IT staff time
Network managers sometimes find they spend less time on moves, adds and changes with WLANs. As workgroups move, consolidate or merge, the amount of time spent administering these changes can be less with WLANs.
Employee time savings

The most quantifiable benefit of WLAN use is time savings. Hours saved per week, per employee, and the corresponding money savings will vary among industries and organizations.

Other time savings users cite:
Accessing e-mail anywhere, for example at the cafeteria during lunch.
Taking instantly accessible notes and being able to communicate during meetings.
Retail: Being able to check something on the network directly from the sales floor.
Accessing information directly, rather than calling a colleague to retrieve it.