How Home Networking Works

Wireless Networks

The easiest, least expensive way to connect the computers in your home is to use a wireless network, which uses radio waves instead of wires. The absence of physical wires makes this kind of network very flexible. For example, you can move a laptop from room to room without fiddling with network cables and without losing your connection. The downside is that wireless connections are generally slower than Ethernet connections and they are less secure unless you take measures to protect your network.

If you want to build a wireless network, you'll need a wireless router. Signals from a wireless router extend about 100 feet (30.5 meters) in all directions, but walls can interrupt the signal. Depending on the size and shape of your home and the range of the router, you may need to purchase a range extender or repeater to get enough coverage.

You'll also need a wireless adapter in each computer you plan to connect to the network. You can add printers and other devices to the network as well. Some new models have built-in wireless communication capabilities, and you can use a wireless Ethernet bridge to add wireless capabilities to devices that don't. Any devices that use the Bluetooth standard can also connect easily to each other within a range of about 10 meters (32 feet), and most computers, printers, cell phones, home entertainment systems and other gadgets come installed with the technology.

If you decide to build a wireless network, you'll need to take steps to protect it -- you don't want your neighbors hitchhiking on your wireless signal. Wireless security options include:

  • Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP)
  • WiFi Protected Access (WPA)
  • Media Access Control (MAC) address filtering

You can choose which method (or combination of methods) you want to use when you set up your wireless router. The IEEE has approved each of these security standards, but studies have proven that WEP can be broken into very easily. If you use WEP, you may consider adding Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) to your operating system. TKIP is a wrapper with backward compatibility, which means you can add it to your existing security option without interfering with its activity. Think of it like wrapping a bandage around a cut finger -- the bandage protects the finger without preventing it from carrying out its normal functions.

In the next section, we'll learn about some innovative home network technologies on the rise.