How To Design & Setup a Wireless Network (Page 1 of 2)
Categories: WiFi and Wireless Technology
Broadband Internet access is quickly becoming commonplace in many US homes. It is also common to find that each member of the family has his/her own desktop computer or laptop, which means that one Internet connection makes it inconvenient when multiple users are vying for access at the same time.
Networking computers together solves the problem of having multiple users and limited resources. In a computer network, all computers have the ability to share one Internet connection, which ends the conflicts of who gets to use the Internet at any given time. Networks also allow things like printers, files, music, and scanners to be available for anyone on the network to use. As an example, a home network would only need one printer, and everyone on the network can use it as if it were connected to his or her computer.
In days past, all computers were networked together with wired connections. Unfortunately, for many home users, stringing network cable from room to room can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Today, computer networks can be created wirelessly (without cables) which means that a wireless network can be easily integrated into any home. Wireless also allows portable users to have web access from any location in range, which means that working from the dining room table or kitchen is the same as working from an office or bedroom.
Setting up a wireless network is a relatively simple task, and does not require much knowledge or skill. However, wireless comes with its own disadvantages as well. Access point location and security become issues that cannot be ignored. This guide will aid in these issues as well as all other aspects of designing and implementing a home wireless network.
Identifying Network HardwareThe following terms and their acronyms will be used extensively in this article. Other improtant terms will be define as they are used.
Broadband Modem - The broadband modem is the device used to connect your home to the Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP is the company that is providing you with high-speed access. In many cases, the modem is provided by the ISP upon activation of the account.
Access Point (AP) - An access point is the central device that sends and receives wireless signals to or from a remote computer. In some cases, the modem you receive from your internet service provider could have an AP built in, but stand alone units can be purchased if not.
Network Interface Card (NIC) - The NIC is the device that sends and receives network signals to or from the access point. NICs can be purchased to receive signals over wires, or wirelessly (known as wireless NICs).
Ethernet Switch - For simplicity, an Ethernet switch is a wired network device that routes network traffic from the broadband modem to multiple locations such as computers other switches or APs. For example, if a broadband modem has only one Ethernet port, a switch can be used as an intermediate device to allow four (or more) computers to connect to the modem instead of one.
Designing a NetworkThere are many different ways to design a home network. Oftentimes, home networks have hard-wired and wireless technologies on the same network. If the broadband modem is already located near a computer, the computer can be connected with a wire even though other computers will be wireless.
It's critical to figure out the best location for the access point. APs have a limited range, so a central location is best when trying to get the maximum range. In an all-wireless network, the AP and modem can be located anywhere there is access to the phone, cable, or satellite line (depending on the method of broadband delivery), and does not have to be located near a computer. Moving the AP away from all computers will force all computers to be wirelessly connected.
The key to starting a network design is determining how many Ethernet ports are located on the back of the Ethernet modem. If it has only one Ethernet port, using wired and wireless technologies will not be possible without the purchase of an Ethernet switch. If it has more than one, it is possible to use wired and wireless technologies without any additional hardware.
Determine the APs location, as well as which computers will be wired or wireless. Each networked computer must have an appropriate wired or wireless NIC, depending on whichever method chosen for that computer.
Selecting an Access PointWhen buying an AP, there are different wireless technologies to choose from. A breakdown of these technologies is below.
- 802.11b - is the most common wireless network technology. It is inexpensive and efficient. It has a theoretical speed of 11Mbps (mega-bits per second), which is fast enough for most users. Except in instances where very large files will be transferred from computer to computer within a network, 802.11b is a reasonable and economical choice.
- 802.11g - is a faster version of 802.11b. It has a theoretical speed of 54Mbps, which makes transferring large files much faster over a wireless network. 802.11g and b are compatible with each other, which allows both types of devices to work together on the same network. If 802.11g is selected, devices with g capability will work at faster speeds, but will slow to be compatible with the max speed of 802.11b when necessary.
- 802.11a - 802.11a and 802.11g are very similar in speed and performance. The 802.11a standard operates on higher frequencies than the 802.11b/g standard. This is desirable in high-traffic areas where there are too many users in the b/g frequency range. Be aware that 802.11a and 802.11b/g are not compatible standards; all receiving equipment must be capable of using the higher-frequency 802.11a standard.
For a little more detailed explanation of these technologies, read the article Wireless Technologies Simply Explained.
Selecting Wireless Receivers
WirelessAfter the access point has been chosen, the next step is to acquire a wireless NIC card for every computer that will be wirelessly connected. Since the AP ultimately determines the networks performance, there is no benefit to selecting cards capable of higher performance than what the AP is capable of, unless an upgrade to the access point is planned in the near future. As an example, there is no performance gain using 802.11g cards on an 802.11b access point.
Desktop computers are not likely to have wireless technology built in. Therefore, a wireless NIC will need to be purchased for each computer. Wireless NICs can come in many different forms.
- Internal Cards - Internal cards are NICs that must be installed to the main board inside the computer. These are typically inexpensive and can yield excellent performance. Those who are not comfortable working inside of their computer, or do not want the cost of having one professionally installed should not purchase this kind of card.
- USB devices - There are many wireless NICs that can be plugged into the USB port on any computer that has one. Once the supporting software is loaded into the computer, it will have network access. USB devices are typically more expensive than internal cards, but are much simpler to install.
- Ethernet Bridges - Bridges are typically the most expensive type of wireless NIC. These devices communicate wirelessly to the network access point, but interface with the wired Ethernet connection on the computer. Bridges do not require any software installation to work with the computer. Also, the performance of a bridge is typically faster than those using the USB ports.
- USB devices - See above
- Ethernet Bridges - See above. Even though a bridge can be used on a laptop, they are hardly portable, and therefore inconvenient for use with laptops.
- PCMCIA Cards - These are the most common types of wireless NICs for laptops, and the most recommended. These will offer the greatest performance than any other type. Unless you want to share a USB NIC between a laptop and a desktop, there is no reason to select any other kind of card for a laptop computer.