I'd like to show you the outside packaging also called the form factor of two units: Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Stations, and Linksys's Wireless Broadband Router model BEFW11S4. In Chapter 14, "Setting Up Your Access Point," I'll show you how to configure these units in your network.
The AirPort Extreme Base Station
When I look at the AirPort Extreme Base Station, shown in Figure 13.6, I see something that somehow manages to combine cute with high tech. I don't know whether you've ever seen Woody Allen's movie "Sleeper," but it reminds me of something from that retro-"Back to the Future" film.
Figure 13.6. The Apple Extreme Base Station looks like a prop from the movie "Sleeper."
The Apple Extreme Base Station may look cute as all get out, but it also has quite a bit of brains and brawn behind that well-designed exterior. For one thing, it runs 802.11g, so it is fast.
You can tell simply by looking at the sockets on the back of the unit that it delivers some nifty features that most other access points don't provide.
If you look at Figure 13.7, you'll see the sockets on the back of the Apple Extreme Base Station.
Figure 13.7. By looking at the sockets on the back of the AirPort Extreme Base Station, you can see that it provides extra A couple of the sockets shown in Figure 13.7 bear some elaboration. The external antenna port and the connection for a dial-up modem are only available on the more expensive of the two AirPort Extreme models available.
The Ethernet WAN (or Wide Area Network) port is used to connect to a cable or DSL modem (or, in some cases, to a network connected to the Internet).
The AirPort Extreme Base Station provides a standard antenna connector, so you can add any antenna you'd like. For more information about antennas, see Chapter 17, "Adding Wi-Fi Antennas to Your Network."
The Ethernet port can be used to connect a wired network "behind" the AirPort Extreme Base Station. You can connect the port to a hub or switch, and then add quite a few wired devices. That way, you wouldn't need a separate router.
The USB printer port provides a way to give all the wireless devices connected via the AirPort Extreme Base Station access to a printer with a USB port.
The antenna for the AirPort Extreme Base Station is sold separately for about $75 at Apple stores. When it is attached to the unit, as shown in Figure 13.8, the range of the AirPort Extreme Base Station is considerably extended.
Figure 13.8. The optional antenna greatly extends the range of the AirPort Extreme Base Station.
Buying a Combo Wire Line Wi-Fi Router
Linksys's Wireless Broadband Router model BEFW11S4, shown in Figure 13.9, is a pretty typical middle-of-the-road 802.11b access point, which you should be able to buy for a street price of around $50.
Figure 13.9. The Linksys Wireless Broadband Router is decent but inexpensive.
Even though it's not as nifty as the AirPort Extreme, there's nothing wrong with this unit. (True, it does run the slower 802.11b protocol rather than 802.11g like the Apple.) If you want to run the faster 802.11g, you can spend a little more money and buy a Linksys model that supports it. (An 802.11g access point and router from Linksys can be had for around $100, as opposed to the AirPort Extreme Base Station for $250 and the 802.11b Wireless Broadband Router for $50.)
I'm including the Linksys here and in the next chapter to show you what the setup and configuration experience will probably be like with good equipment bought where budget is the main consideration.
Note the two antennas on either side of the unit shown in Figure 13.9. Having two antennas like this helps give this unit solid signal strength and range.
The best feature is on the back of the Linksys unit, shown in Figure 13.10.
Figure 13.10. The Linksys Wireless Broadband unit provides four wired network sockets.
As you can see in Figure 13.10, you can plug the Linksys Broadband Router into your cable or DSL modem, connect your wired computers to it, use the unit to connect via Wi-Fi to wireless computers, and need no further hardware. With this unit you don't need no stinking router, or even a switch or hub (provided you have four or fewer wire-line computers).
The Absolute Minimum
Here are the key points to remember from this chapter:
You should understand what the different pieces of wireless networking gear do before you buy one.
An access point, also called a base station, is the heart of a wireless network.
A wireless bridge can be used to connect a device with an Ethernet connection to a wireless network.
A wireless bridge can be used to extend the range of wireless access points.
Home and small office wireless access points are much less expensive than they used to be and range in cost from less than $50 to around $250 for the elegant 802.11g Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station.