If your home network is not contained within a single room, or if wiring is not a viable option for you, then one of the available wireless networking solutions is the way to go. The drawbacks to wireless networking are that the cost is somewhat higher than that of wired Ethernet solutions and that the configuration can be a bit more time-consuming. Security is also a concern with wireless networks. Keep in mind that your data is traveling across radio frequencies, which are available to anyone with the right equipment to receive those signals.
Wireless Networking Hardware
To create a wireless home network, you need to consider two types of hardware: a WAP and network interface cards (NICs).
For any type of wireless network, you need to purchase a wireless access point (WAP). WAPs, which are the wireless equivalent of hubs and switches in a wired environment, come in many different varieties. You need to consider whether to buy a WAP that also includes routing features (very common these days), which is a great benefit when you're connecting a home network to the Internet through an ISP. One of the great benefits of WAPs these days is that you can simply plug them in to your ISP connection and then make simple configurations on your home computers to enable networking. Because of this ease of use, the projects in this book implement wireless networking.
WAPs vary in their capabilities, and you will certainly want to read the manual for the WAP that you choose for your network. In general, you should look for what is called a wireless router, which you can usually buy for less than $100. A wireless router includes WAP functionality along with an Ethernet switch that accommodates speeds of 10Mbps and 100Mbps, usually with four ports, and a separate connection for linking to your ISP connection.
To build a wireless network, you also need a wireless NIC for each of your computers. Each notebook or laptop type of device needs a PC card device or a USB wireless NIC, and each desktop can use either an internally installed NIC or a USB wireless NIC. Wireless NICs are fairly inexpensive; you can buy most for less than $50, and there are quite a few you can buy for around $25. Many manufacturers of both laptops and desktops include NICs in their systems. So you may not have to purchase one when you decide to put together your network.
USB NICs are a bit slower than built-in NICs.
Wireless Networking Standards
When people talk about wireless networking, they are referring to what is commonly known as the 802.11 standard, which is specified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). You can obtain exhaustive information on the various 802.11 wireless specifications from the IEEE website, at http://standards.ieee.org/wireless. As with many things relating to computers and networking, it is important to understand the terminology related to wireless networking. The following sections describe the three most common 802.11 standards: 802.11b, 802.11a, and 802.11g.
The 802.11b Wireless Standard
The first 802.11 standard to be implemented was 802.11b. The data communications speed expectation of 802.11b is 11Mbps; however, the actual speed is influenced by the amount of interference the signal encounters. 802.11b wireless networks operate on a radio frequency of 2.4 Gigahertz (GHz), so you will often have problems in such networks if you have cordless phones that share this frequency. You can solve this problem by either moving your wireless equipment as far from your cordless device as possible, by using 900MHz or 5.8GHz phones, or by opting for another of the wireless standards.
The 802.11a Wireless Standard
802.11a is a bit odd in the lexicon of wireless networking history. It is an upgrade to the 802.11b technology, even though sequentially you would think it was the first to be released. However, it is a mutually exclusive upgrade in that you can't run both 802.11b and 802.11a on the same network. The advantage offered by 802.11a is speed; it is capable of data transmission at 54Mbps, which is a five-fold increase over the speed offered by 802.11b. WAPs and NICs in the 802.11a environment also operate on radio frequency technology, but they work in the 5GHz range, so interference with cordless phones is a problem only if you use 5.8GHz phones.
The 802.11g Wireless Standard
802.11g offers a true upgrade over the other wireless standards in that you can mix 802.11b devices with 802.11g devices. As with the 802.11a standard, speed is the primary reason for moving to 802.11g, where data is transmitted at 54Mbps. The advantage of moving from 802.11b to 802.11g, of course, is that you are not required to perform a wholesale upgrade of all devices on the network. The most important consideration is that your WAP can accommodate the fastest wireless NIC on the network. So by installing an 802.11g WAP, you are able to mix the NICs in your computers. The 802.11b devices will be able to transmit at 11Mbps, and the 802.11g devices will be able to transmit at 54Mbps, all on the same network. 802.11g devices operate on the 2.4GHz frequency, so your wireless interference issues are the same as with 802.11b devices. You will likely only encounter 802.11g wireless networking if you control the creation of your wireless network. If some of your computer equipment is a little older, you may have to make provisions for slower-speed devices.