Home Networking Guide : Wireless LAN

Wi-Fi Home Network
Picture: Wireless LAN (Wi-Fi) Home Network
A Wi-Fi access point connects computers and other devices in a Wi-Fi home network.
Power jacks and power cables are not shown in the diagram for simplicity.

Wireless LAN is your home networking solution if
- you need flexibility to move about or work anywhere in your house with your laptop,
- you don't want to introduce new data cables in addition to power cords,
- you want your network to reach hard-to-wire rooms.

There are currently three popular wireless LAN specifications in use, i.e. IEEE 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g. The original wireless LAN specification, that's IEEE 802.11, has been practically abandoned. 802.11b and 802.11g are the most widely used today in home networks and in public hotspots. Meanwhile newer products based on the upcoming revision, i.e. IEEE 802.11n which hasn't been finalized and ratified, has been widely available in the market as draft-n or pre-n. All wireless LAN systems based on the IEEE 802.11 standard revisions are popularly known as Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity).

To create a wireless network at home, you need to have a wireless (Wi-Fi) access point. A wireless access point acts like a hub or a switch in Ethernet network that functions as a central connection point. However, if you have only two computers to connect, you don't need a Wi-Fi access point. You can create a wireless network using Wi-Fi in ad hoc mode to connect both computers.

If you want to buy a wireless access point, you must first check what are included because very often one box combines several network functions besides, such as bridge, switch, router, firewall, and broadband modem. Most access points provide a connection (network bridge) to wired Ethernet network. And for the purpose of connecting a wireless network to the Internet, you may need a hardware named wireless router. Wireless router is a combination of wireless access point and router. Most wireless routers available today have built-in Ethernet switch and provides several Ethernet ports and sometimes a print server.

Each computer (desktop PC or laptop) or device (PDA, smart phone, camera, printer, etc.) must have a Wi-Fi network adapter to join a wireless LAN. There are various types of Wi-Fi adapter:
- built-in Wi-Fi adapter such as in Centrino notebook,
- internal Wi-Fi adapter, i.e. PCI/PCI Express card for desktop PC or mini PCI card for notebook, and
- external Wi-Fi adapter, i.e. PCMCIA card (PC Card) for notebook, CF card for PDA, MMC card for cell phone, SD card for camera, or USB dongle.

It must be noted that all Wi-Fi adapters you choose must be compatible with your access point. Since 802.11g is backward compatible with 802.11b, both versions can work together in a mixed 802.11b/g environment. On the other hand, 802.11a is not compatible with both 802.11b and 802.11g.

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