Wireless Networking Buying Guide
Wi-Fi or Wireless Fidel...
Wireless Networking Buying Guide
Wi-Fi or Wireless Fidelity has become the standard for transmitting any and all types of data wirelessly. The hardware for this can come in various things like PCI/PCMCIA cards, phones, USB devices, and Network Routers among other things as well.
Wi-Fi has enjoyed an increased popularity to the point that it is very common to easily find access most anywhere you go like the mall, coffee shops, and hotels. Some cities even offer free Wi-Fi to people who visit them, and for everyday use. Many people, including myself, have Wi-Fi in their homes to wirelessly connect computers and devices to their network and to be able to access the internet.
Wireless networking has become so popular because of freedom of it, it allows you to go anywhere you want in your home or elsewhere without being tethered to a cable for your internet or network connection. This freedom allows up to be mobile with our lifestyles and employment, something that is becoming more and more prevalent in today's society.
Purchasing a Wireless Networking Device -Specifically a Router:
When you decide to go wireless there are a few questions you need to ask yourself before your initial purchase:
Where are you going to have your wireless network?
-Most people don't think of this, the performance of your AP or access point will depend on many things, but specifically on what type of building you have or live in. If you have thick walls or walls with lots of metal and wiring in them, you will be limiting the range of your network and these things can cause interference as well.
What are you using it for?
-Is it for a home network? Maybe file sharing over your network, gaming, or streaming media to a device like an Xbox, HTPC or Playstation? There are products out there that are specifically designed for these types of applications where you will have much better performance than using a standard device.
What else do you want to share over your wireless network?
-With some routers you can share a printer over your wireless connection or even a storage device like a portable USB hard drive, but not all routers come standard with these options.
How many devices will share the connection?
- With the prevalence of Wi-Fi in so many things now you have to ask how many devices you have that will share your wireless connection? How many computers do you want to connect to your network? Some routers come with a feature called MIMO or Multiple Input Multiple Output which increases the range and signal strength or speed and the overall performance of the network itself. Devices with MIMO in them will cost a bit more than those without but if you plan on expanding your network they are worth the cost for the initial purchase.
Wireless Standards, Their Speeds, Frequencies and Ranges indoors/outdoors, and Typical Data Rates:
There have been several standards for Wireless Networking, and as with anything it changes over time as technology progresses. At the present time the prevalent standard is 802.11g with 802.11b still in use many places, but the new standard of 802.11n is coming soon with many routers and appliances already supporting it. It's important to note though that 802.11n is note and official standard yet, it is still in the draft stages.
802.11 2 Mbps, 2.4GHz, 20m/100m, 2Mbit/s
802.11a 54 Mbps, 5ghz, 35m/120m, 23Mbit/s
802.11b 11 Mbps, 2.4Ghz, 38m/140m, 4.5Mbit/s
802.11g 54 Mbps, 2.4Ghz, 38m/140m, 23Mbit/s
802.11n 70Mbps*, 2.4/5Ghz*, 70m/250m*, 74Mbit/s*
-(*70Mbps theoretically, and some claim as fast as 270Mbps, 802.11n has yet to be officially released, this information can change as time goes by)
802.11y is the future of wireless, with draft 'n' not even being officially released yet, there is already talk of a draft 'y' in the works that could offer incredible increases in ranges and speeds over 802.11n.
Bluetooth – While Bluetooth isn't commonly used for 'real' wireless networking it can be used by PCs and other devices to interact with each other and even access the internet. At the present time Bluetooth is more commonly used for cellphones and laptops but can be found in many other devices as well like gaming consoles, GPS devices, and even printers. The fact that the latest Bluetooth standard, 2.0, only runs at 3 Mbit/s is the main reason it's not widely used for regular networking and accessing the internet as Wi-Fi is. Though Bluetooth can be a great choice for many things, accessing the internet is not one of them.
Encryption or Security on Wifi
There are three basic types of security on WiFi systems, or four if you count none at all, but it is highly
advised that any WiFi network be secured with the latest version. Security can prevent people from not only stealing your internet connection and bandwidth, but it leaves the possibility of them also stealing your personal information and committing crimes via your network leaving you open to prosecution for their crimes.
WEP or Wired Equivalent Privacy overs an encryption protocol to prevent eavesdropping on or of your signal. WEP has been found to not be as secure as was once originally thought. It is advised to not even use WEP, but one of the following two choices as available to you through your hardware.
WPA or Wi-Fi Protected Access
WPA2 is a much higher level of protection than WPA offers as it offers a much more secure and scalable solution to WPA.
The primary difference between WPA and WPA2 is the technology used for the encryption. WPA uses TKIP or Temporal Key Integrity Protocol while WPA2 uses AES or Advanced Encryption Standard. To give you an idea of how secure AES is, the government employs AES encryption schemes to protect their classified data, while it might not be on the same level as what the government uses, WPA2 is secure enough for our uses and the most secure available in consumer type devices today.
Of course though a router isn't the only thing you'll need to get your wireless network up and running, you'll need additional adapters for the devices that you wish to be on the network.
Most laptops these days come with a wireless card as a standard addition but older ones do not, so you may need to purchase an external wireless card for them. In addition to this though, your laptop might come with wireless b/g but not n, so if you wish to utilize the n standard you'll need to upgrade the internal card if possible or purchase an additional external card for that.
For a desktop computer and even a laptop you can purchase internal wireless cards in PCI or mini-PCI formats, but if you don't want to open up your computer you also have the choice of a USB dongle type of wireless adapter. The USB dongle types perform just as well as their internal counterparts but offer the ability to be moved from device to device, this is a nice option if your devices do not need to be connected to a network all of the time.
So as you can see there are many factors that can go into your wireless networking experience, and they can quickly add up in cost if you don't plan ahead and configure your setup as needed.
The advice I can give you about purchasing a wireless networking device is to firstly figure out what you need it for, and secondly research, research and more research into your buying choices.
Talk to other people with setups that are similar to yours, if you plan on gaming or streaming media some products perform these functions better than others, you don't want to buy the first one you come across and have lackluster performance for your network.
Author: Kristofer Brozio
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