The chief advantage of a wired network is speed. So-called "Fast Ethernet" cables can send data at 100Mbps while most Wi-Fi networks max out at 54Mpbs [source: About.com]. So if you want to set up a LAN gaming party or share large files in an office environment, it's better to stick with wired connections for optimum speed. Take note, however, that the upcoming 802.11n Wi-Fi standard claims throughput speeds of 150 to 300Mbps [source: Network World].
The chief advantage of a wireless network is mobility and flexibility. You can be anywhere in the office and access the Internet and any files on the LAN. You can also use a wider selection of devices to access the network, like Wi-Fi-enabled handhelds and PDAs.
Another advantage of wireless networks is that they're comparatively cheaper to set up, especially in a large office or college environment. Ethernet cables and routers are expensive. So is drilling through walls and running cable through ceilings. A few well-placed wireless access points -- or even better, a wireless mesh network -- can reach far more devices with far less money.
Other than that, both wired and wireless networks are equally easy (or difficult) to set up, depending on the organization's size and complexity. For a small office or home network, the most popular operating systems -- Windows XP, Vista and Mac OS 10 -- can guide you through the process with a networking wizard. Installing and administering a large office or organizational network is equally tricky whether you're using wired or wireless. Although with wireless connections, you don't have to go around checking physical Ethernet connections.
As for security, wired is generally viewed as more secure, since someone would have to physically hack into your network. With wireless, there's always a chance that a hacker could use packet-sniffing software to spy on information traveling over your wireless network. But with new wireless encryption standards like WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) built into most Wi-Fi routers, wireless networking is nearly as secure as wired.
A hybrid wired/Wi-Fi network would seem to offer the best of both worlds in terms of speed, mobility, affordability and security. If a user needs maximum Internet and file-sharing speed, then he can plug into the network with an Ethernet cable. If he needs to show a streaming video to his buddy in the hallway, he can access the network wirelessly. With the right planning, an organization can save money on CAT 5 cable and routers by maximizing the reach of the wireless network. And with the right encryption and password management in place, the wireless portion of the network can be just as secure as the wired.
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