How To Build an Affordable Wi-Fi Network for Your Small Business

Printer Sharing

When it comes to sharing printers, there are two primary choices. You can buy a networked printer, or you can attach a wireless print server to an existing printer. If you’re buying a new printer, you’ll be better off with a networked model, because setup is easier and you won’t have to deal with possible compatibility issues between the printer and print server.

You can purchase a printer that has wireless or wired networking capabilities. Considering the amount of data being transferred to a business printer, you might be better off with an Ethernet printer, such as the HP LaserJet P3015n ($599; www.hp.com), which prints up to 42 pages per minute. If your printer has Ethernet you’ll need to place it either right next to the router or near a powerline networking port.

For existing printers that don’t offer built-in networking support, or if you want to buy a non-networked printer, you can purchase a wireless print server for less than $100. The ASUS WL-500GB ($64.99; usa.asus.com) supports up to two printers at once, while the TrendNet TEW-P1UG ($68.99) works only with a single printer. Whatever print server you choose, check to make sure that it supports the specific make and model of your printer. “They typically have a list of compatible printers since part of the driver has to run in the device,” said Melfi. “So you always have to find out: is the printer that you have on the compatibility list for that product?”

If you really want to save money on a print server and have an unused Windows computer lying around, you can attach that desktop to your printer and use Windows’ print sharing to make it available to the rest of the office. However, you may be wasting a perfectly good computer and using up more electricity than necessary to keep it on all the time.

Network Attached Storage

Perhaps the most important resource you can share with your coworkers is a storage drive. Fortunately, you don’t need a network certification and a giant, expensive file server to share files on your network. A network attached storage (NAS) device makes it easy to give your employees a ton of space while maintaining strict control over security and permissions. “The intelligence in the NAS is what you would expect out of a file server,” Melfi said.

With a four-bay NAS such as the Synology DiskStation DS410 ($499; www.synology.com), you can install up to four 3.5-inch desktop hard drives of up to 2TB each ($110 and up) for a total of 8TB of storage. Other NAS stations, such as the Western Digital ShareSpace ($499 for 4TB; www.wdc.com), come with drives preinstalled. You can also use RAID technology to mirror your drives and protect precious data in the event that one disk fails. If your storage needs are modest, you can save money by purchasing a two-bay NAS, but a four-bay solution gives you the most room to grow.

You’ll want the NAS to use a wired connection, so place it near a wired port next to your router. Setting up permissions is easy. Using the device’s control panel, you can create a list of user accounts and groups. Then you can assign access rights to each individual or to groups.

When it comes to cross-platform compatibility, any NAS worth its salt should support both Windows and Mac-based networking standards. Many NAS devices even double as web servers for your corporate intranet.

Network Cameras

Security cameras are another resource many small businesses want to share over the network. When it comes to choosing a camera, you need to decide whether you need to pan, tilt, and zoom remotely with something like the Cisco WVC210 ($219; www.cisco.com). An inexpensive fixed-view unit like the Zonet ZVC7630W ($149; www.zonetusa.com) may also do the job. Look at the resolution of the camera and the compression it offers; you’ll want at least VGA resolution (640 x 480 pixels) in order to see fine details. Also, getting a camera that offers H.264 as opposed to simple MPEG-4 compression will allow for smoother images.

Verdict

For well under $2,000, you can set up a wireless network for more than 30 employees working in a mid-size office space that allows them to share an Internet connection, files, printers, and even security cameras. Even better, you can do so without hiring an expensive IT consultant or someone to drill holes in the walls, floor, and ceiling. All that’s really required is a little know-how and some time to set things up.

How To Build an Affordable Wi-Fi Network for Your Small Business

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Tim Says:

    What would be the most cost effective option to install wi-fi into a small coffee house to serve customers?
    How much would a service like this cost??

  2. Anna Attkisson, LAPTOP Managing Editor Says:

    That will likely depend on your service provider. You can pick up a decent router for between $50 and $75. The monthly cost would come from Time Warner Cable or Comcast, or from whomever you get your cable.

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