Just as schools are getting comfortable with all the wiring that is needed to create in-school computer networks, technology is changing to the point where wireless local area networks (LANs) are a viable option. Wireless LANs are now cost-competitive with cable-based systems, top providers of the systems say, and they offer many benefits.

The most obvious benefit is ease of installation; wireless systems offer an alternative to costly, difficult wiring projects that often create unexpected problems (such as disturbing asbestos). Even more importantly, wireless LANs eliminate the need for computers to be located within easy access of the cables themselves; with wireless, computers can be moved from room to room, thus avoiding having the computers isolated in the computer lab. Ambitious educators predict the day when students carry notebook computers from class to class and use wireless LANs to follow along with lectures is not far away.

Before going wireless, educators should consider the range, speed, and power consumption of the various options. Experts recommend choosing a reliable vendor and making all purchases from that company, as some equipment from other manufacturers may not be compatible.

Many of the leading computer and networking companies offer wireless LAN systems that are adaptable for schools, including 3Com (http://www.3com.com/wireless); Apple (http://www.apple.com/education/K12/product s/airport.html); Symbol (http://www.symbol.com/products/wireless); and Lucent (http://www.wavelan.com/education). Less well-known companies that offer wireless services include Aironet (http://www.aironet.com); BreezeCOM (http://www. breezecom.com); Cabletron Systems (http://www.cabletron.com/ wireless); Proxim (http://www.proxim.com); and RadioLAN (http://www.radiolan.com).