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How to setup a wireless home network - section 8

How should I choose what to buy?

When you will go to look for products in stores or on the internet, you will notice that there are few technologies and standards. Most of the products implement a subset of these technologies and understanding what every term (bullet on the product package) means, will help you choose the right products. Make sure of course you have a common supported features among all your equipment, so they can connect to each other. I found out that you can find really good prices on the internet for networking equipment.

To make shopping even easier, you can also buy a bundle, such as those available from Linksys, D-Link, Netgear,  Microsoft, and Buffalo.

Radio

  • 802.11a - higher network throughput (theoretical 54Mbps, practical ~23Mbps). Relatively short range.
  • 802.11b - low throughput (theoretical 11Mbps, practical ~7Mbps). Relatively long range.
  • 802.11g - higher network throughput (theoretical 54Mbps, practical ~23Mbps). Relatively long range. Backward compatible with 11b.

Easy to see that 11g has the benefits of 11a and 11b and therefore it should be the preferred one. One exception is that 11a is less sensitive to RF noises, so if you are in an area that few Microwave ovens and 2.4Ghz cordless phones operate around the clock maybe you should go for 11a. Some devices supports all three standards.

  • 802.11n - a new standard that is currently developed and few pre-standard products can be already found at stores. It has the range of 11g but the throughput is much higher (X2, X4 or even more).

I would go for 11g products.

Security

All products sold support WEP, which is a weak security standard. Experienced hackers can break it using the right equipment within few hours.

Stronger security modes are TKIP and AES with WPA-PSK (Pre Shared Key). AES is preferred, but they are both strong. It is not always specified on the products brochures, but it is quite important that the encryption/decryption is done on the wireless adapter itself and not by the host driver. This is because that these security algorithms require heavy calculations that will burden the host CPU if they are implemented in the driver. You can probably see this info in the product's specifications.

QoS (Quality of Service)

QoS provides packet prioritization, allowing packets containing time-dependent data such as audio or video to be sent ahead of data that can safely wait a few microseconds.

Such technology will play a key role in home entertainment networks set up to pump multiple TV, video and audio streams around the house.

WFA certifications

Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) is an organization that test wireless devices for robustness and compatibility to the standards. Buying certified products (not only compatible) is not mandatory, but will ensure that a specific product is interoperable with other products, even from different manufacturers. This is also a stamp for performance and security quality.

The relevant certifications are (from most important to the least):

  • 802.11a/b/g - radio interoperability
  • WPA / WPA2 - security certifications
  • WMM - QoS certification.

Wireless router

In addition to the above considerations, you should take into account the following parameters:

  • Be sure you buy a wireless router and not a wireless AP (which is not suitable for internet sharing).
  • Number of LAN ports - it is common to have at least 4 ports with the speed of 100Mbps each.
  • If you are going to place the router in a visible place, you should consider its look. In a large home, the router should be placed in the center of the house to have reception in all the house area.

Wireless adapter

Network adapters wirelessly connect your computer to your wireless router. Make sure you have wireless adapter in each computer you want to connect wirelessly to the network. There are few form factors for wireless adapters:

  • Laptop with built in wireless adapters - some new laptops and desktops have wireless capabilities build in. In this case you don't need to buy a wireless adapter.
  • PC card (PCMCIA) - fits the laptop's PC card extension slot.
  • PCI - this is suitable for desktops only. In this case you should prefer an external antenna rather then internal one, preferably with a long antenna cable that can be positioned above the desktop.
  • USB adapter - suitable both for desktops and laptops. Easy to install and remove.





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