Wireless Networking

What kind of hardware will I need?

The minimum requirement for a wireless network is a wireless adapter (or wireless NIC) in each PC. These can take several forms. Many new notebooks have a wireless adapter built-in. These often take advantage of the Intel Centrino's support for Wi-Fi standards.

Notebooks that don't have a wireless adapter can gain one in the form of a PC Card or USB adapter. A PC card adapter is generally less obtrusive, but a USB adapter can more easily be redeployed to desktop systems.

Desktop users can choose between the two. If you or your business is purchasing new PCs, consider ones with built-in cards, as this will be cheaper than adding them later.

Whatever device you have, it's good practice to purchase 802.11g hardware if you can afford it. This will offer higher speeds and remain compatible with older 802.11b networks. Conversely, the rise of 802.11g means that 802.11b equipment is rapidly becoming cheaper, which may remain an important consideration for many businesses.

PCs equipped with wireless adapters can communicate directly with each other via a peer-to-peer network, but this is of limited use for most businesses. Assuming you already have a network in place, the easiest way to get wireless access is to link a wireless access point to your existing hub or router. Entry-level access points are available from around $200.

Despite the name, the wireless access point connects to your network hub via conventional cable and has its own IP address. Each PC with a wireless adapter can then connect to the access point, which in turn provides access to network resources. Make sure your access point can support the number of users you'll need.

If you want to minimise hardware, access points with built-in routers, DHCP servers (to assign IP addresses to each machine on the network) and even DSL modems are available. These combine the functions of several pieces of networking gear into one. This integration can be useful, but such devices are more expensive.

For larger offices, multiple wireless access points can be connected, which is a useful way of extending the range of devices beyond the 30-metre indoor limit. Note, however, that other factors such as walls or other electronic devices may restrict the range, no matter how many 'hopping points' you use. Microwaves, in particular, have been known to cause problems.

Device management is simple for entry-level wireless access points, and configuration can usually be done via a Web browser. With more complex equipment, such as access points with integrated routers, network knowledge may be required for set up tasks. If your system is complex, you may need to hire a consultant.

An important part of network configuration is sharing your Internet connection. Your ISP should be able to provide you with details on how to make your broadband link accessible to wireless clients. Some sell the hardware and services to do so, as a package.

Bear in mind that a wireless network in itself doesn't provide any form of Internet access. You'll still need broadband from a service provider to connect to the Internet. Wireless also doesn't offer any speed increase; if your broadband only runs at 512Kbs, then that's the fastest speed you will be able to achieve.

Wireless game adaptor

Wireless game adaptor

Another recent addition to the wireless world is the game adaptor. These devices are designed to connect to the standard Ethernet port of a gaming console such as an Xbox or Playstation2. By converting the network traffic to the 802.11b protocol, these adaptors allow driver-free wireless gaming over a LAN or the Internet. By using two of these adaptors in ad-hoc mode, local wireless network gaming is possible between two consoles. Although they are intended for game consoles and are more expensive than conventional wireless network cards (about $210), there is no reason why these adaptors can't be used with standard Ethernet cards in desktop and notebook PCs, either.

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