24 Dec 05
The Pros & Cons
Let's start with the good news. Wireless networking has several advantages, including:
1. Flexibility - You can put almost any of your equipment anywhere in your house. You can also move individual pieces of equipment without disrupting or having to change the network. You literally have an internet connection everywhere in your house.
2. Easy to set up - Because wireless networks don't require you to run wires to each device needing a connection, you can be up and running in minutes. If your house wasn't built with a network in it (very few are yet,) then running wires could be messy and a ton of work. Wireless saves the hassle.
3. Cost - Wireless equipment might not seem cheap when you initially set it up, but you won't have any additional costs if you need to move your network around. Also, purchasing all the wire necessary for a wired network is surprisingly pricey, not to mention the time and cost of running wires through your walls and ceilings.
Wireless has some disadvantages over traditional networking:
1. Speed - Wireless networking is significantly slower than wired networks. The most popular wireless standard currently in use is 802.11g. This standard allows for 54 Mbs (Mega bits per second) of data. Like all advertised specifications, this is fastest possible burst of data under ideal conditions. Realistically, you can expect speeds of 13-20 Mbs. The upcoming industry standard of 802.11n allows for an advertised speed of up to 300 Mbs, translating to about 40 Mbits of actual throughput.
By comparison, the trusty Ethernet wired standard we all grew up with allows speeds of up to 1000 Mbs. What's more, wired ethernet supports full duplex operation, meaning that you can actually get up to 2000 Mbs out of a standard wired network. This means that wireless b is 50-100 times slower than a wired network.
Many manufacturers have developed proprietary standards that will give you faster speeds and longer range. The problem with these is that you would need to purchase all of your networking equipment from the same manufacturer. Even equipment purchased from the same manufacturer but at different times is not guaranteed to be compatible at the extended speeds.
With all of that said, the 54 Mbps provided by 802.11g networks is usually more than enough speed for home networks. With most cable internet connections in the range of 1.5 - 15 Mbps, the wireless g standard should provide plenty of speed for surfing the net. It really doesn't take much bandwidth to surf the web or read email, and many people never notice the speed difference of their wireless network from a wired one.
2. Radio interference - Certain types of strong radio signals could interfere with your network. Some common types of interference are cordless phones, microwaves, and ham radios. This type of interference is becoming less and less of a problem as routers improve and cordless phones move to other frequencies, but it is still something you may have to deal with.
3. Distance - Your signal quality (and the speed of your wireless connection) will decrease as you get farther from your router. While wired ethernet allows a wire to go up to 100 meters before the signal must repeated, a typical wireless connection only goes about 30 meters indoors. This can be improved with range extenders or specially built routers. More on that later.
4. Security - Wireless security was the inspiration for this article. Since your network is being broadcast as radio signal in all directions, anyone within range can tune in. The neighbors next door or even people driving down the street with lap-tops will be able to connect to your network, access your files, and use your internet connection. I will show you steps you can take to lock down your wireless network to keep unwanted visitors out, but there will always be risks.
For many people, including me, the advantages of flexibility and easy installation outweigh the disadvantages of wireless networking. If you are one of those people, read on to see how to set it up.
24 Sept 07