By Bob Catanzarite
Wireless Chapter 1
Even though this website is all about Wiring, a Wireless Network can enhance your Structured Wiring System a great deal. In fact, as I'll demonstrate here, having a well planned Structured Wiring system will enhance the performance of a Wireless network.
There are two types of wireless network that are available for home networking - 802.11b and 802.11a. A third type, 802.11g is on the way.
802.11a - is 54 Mbps (Million bits per second) network that is relatively new but is commercially available now. It is quite a bit more expensive though. 802.11a operates on a 5GHz frequency band that is less likely to be interfered with by commonly used household items.
802.11b - is a 11 Mbps network that is in widespread used now and prices for the hardware are dropping quickly. Some manufacturers have now adapted modulation techniques that achieve a 22 Mbps speed. D-Link for one has 22 Mbps hardware available which is what I have added to my Structured Wiring system. 802.11b operates in a 2.4 GHz band that is also used by 2.4 GHz cordless phones commonly used in the home. Microwave ovens also use this band. There is a lot of concern about interference interference between these devices. I have a 2.4 GHz phone and I can sit at my laptop with an 802.11b card in place and operating while talking on the cordless at the same with no real interference problems to date. In actual use 802.11 will connect at rates in the area of 3.5 Mbps to 4.5 Mbps. Reviews on the D-Link 22 Mbps system I bought achieved connect rates around 6.5 Mbps. These rates are only achieved when the RF (Radio Frequency) signal levels are the strongest and under the best conditions. When signal levels drop so do the connect speeds.
Wireless speeds cannot come near the 100 Mbps fast ethernet that my Structured Wiring system supports. Wireless, being wireless, does has some substantial advantages but does have some severe limitations. Security is also a major concern for wireless networks. With a range of 300 ft and more, your neighbors and anybody outside your home can pick up your signal.
802.11g - Is a 3rd type. It will operate at a much higher rate of 54Mbps and at 2.4GHz. As you might expect this equipment will initially be more expensive but will drop quickly as it becomes more popular. I believe this standard has the most potential to be the most popular standard in the not too distant future.
Wireless Networking Basics
You basically have two types of
wireless network devices:
Wireless Network Adapters (WNA)
WNA's are devices that generally attach to a PC. These WNA's can attach to a PC in several form:
Access Points (AP)
AP's are usually standalone
'boxes' that attach or bridge your wireless network to your wired network via an ethernet
cable. AP are also available simply as an AP or can be combined with a
hub, a switch or a broadband route and even come as an AP with Router
and multi-port switch. Shown below is a typical AP with router and 4
port switch. AP can even include a Print Server.
You can attach a WNA to your pc but now you need something for it to link wirelessly to. WNA's can link to another WNA or they can link to an AP. In the Ad-hoc mode WNA's can link to another WNA. In the Infrastructure mode a WNA will link to an AP. There are other websites that go into this in more detail than I will here and I'll have links to some of these website on my Links page. One particularly good website is at Home Net Help and Small Net Builder.
The most common configuration for a home network is to have an AP and one or more WNA's. This is the configuration that I'll focus on here. I'll go one step further here and say that the most ideal configuration for a combination of wired and wireless networks is to use a simple AP and NOT to use an AP combined with a router/switch combination. I'll explain why.
The wired network system has the tremendous advantage of MUCH higher speeds and far fewer security concerns. A wired ethernet system operates at 100Mbps -vs- the 3 to 5Mbps that you end up with in an 802.11b network. The security of today's 802.11b has been widely criticized as being highly vulnerable. Worst yet most wireless systems will come from the factory with ALL of their security features DISABLED. It then becomes your responsibility to learn about these security features and figure out how to enable them.
I am not slamming wireless systems here. I have added an AP and a WNA to my own structured wiring system. You just need to know the limitations the wireless links have and how to enable the feeble security features it does have.