Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wireless Networking 101

As technology evolves computer networking is not to be left behind. Now more than ever, connectivity is essential. A computer network used to be considered a business necessity, and was not very common in the household. The primary factor limiting home networking is of course the cost, followed by logistics in wiring and installation.

For those that have older buildings and homes, installing network cabling (category 5, or CAT5) cable may be a difficult endeavor. As telephone and cable television lines are run inside the walls when the dwelling was built, adding wiring to an existing structure often requires extensive drilling, wire fishing, drywall cutting and repairing. This is not an easy job. There is great potential to cause serious damage and harm to your self and your home. Consider the risks when drilling a hole blindly inside a wall where there may be water, or electrical lines.

The solution is quite simple, and so is the technology behind a wireless (WiFi) network. Essentially, you have a wireless base that transmits and receives data. This is called a wireless router. For every computer that requires access to the network, or to the internet, you will need a wireless adapter to interface with the router. A router allows multiple computers to share a single internet connection. It has additional functions such as security, and control, as well as wireless functionality. Within the router is a small web based interface that you access through your computer. The interface allows you to change the configuration settings of the router. This is also where the wireless controls reside. While wireless networking may be a great solution to connectivity limitations, it does not come without it's flaws and limitations as well.

Wireless networking limitations start with distance, interference and security. The distance between the wireless router and the wireless client (your computer) can be several feet to several dozen feet. Anything more than that will require additional equipment to boost the signal strength. There are three standards for wireless communication between computers. 802.11A, 802.11B and 802.11G are the most common, with 802.11 G being the standard of today.

Wireless devices and metal objects such as ventilation systems, and cordless telephones can greatly diminish your wireless distance and signal strength. It is not uncommon to have poor wireless signal strength with the computer and wireless router in the same room, obviously, something would be interfering with the signals.

Wireless networking equipment can be purchased from any computer retailer. It is best to purchase the same brand router and client adapters. Look for 802.1G protocols, with the highest bandwidth, 54 mbits would be considered standard, with 110 mbits being newer. These of course are not guaranteed transmission rates, however under optimal conditions, you can expect these speeds.

Wireless routers have the option to use a wireless connection as well as a physical wired connection. Usually up to 4 clients may use the router simultaneously. This is a combination of wired and wireless. Installing the router will also involve setting up a secure password to disable others from gaining access your network and internet connection without your knowledge. This is called WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol)

The router configuration will have a section for setting up a wireless network, and adding encryption to your connections. There are several methods of security and varying levels as well. Essentially, you set a passphrase in the router, The clients cannot connect to the router without that password. The client computers will prompt you to enter this password to connect to the router.

Connecting a router (commonly called a wireless access point) to your existing network can be confusing, however the process can be considered a rule. Keep in mind that unless you have a slow dial up connection, in which case this is not applicable. (This is for DSL and cable only)

1) Follow your existing internet connection line to the point inside your home that you connect your computer for internet access.

2) Connect that line to the port on the router labeled WAN.

3) Connect your client computers to the LAN ports on the router. Typically there are four.

4) Wireless clients will need the wireless adapter installed first, the operating system will detect a wireless network. If a wireless network is not detected, then you may consider looking at the installation software that came with the wireless equipment, or look at potential points of interference with the wireless signal.

Broken down - internet line -à router WAN à to clients on router LAN