What You Need to Know About Wireless Networking for Your Home

Today’s lesson – home wireless networking!  This may sound simple to some, but you would be surprised as to how many people are confused with home wireless networking and all the features and fun things you can do with a home network.

This series of articles will have general information on how to get started and how to maximize your network.

One main theme of this article is to dispel the belief that its hard to network a Mac computer in the home. 

Quite the contrary – networking Macs, even PCs and Linux machines (all together or separate), is simple to do all on the same network. 

But before we get Mac specific, first we must build a solid foundation of all the features of a home network.

Getting Started:

This lesson should be short and sweet, chances are, if you are reading this article, you are on a computer that is networked to the Internet. 

Here are just a few of the basics:

Remember, always set up a secure network.  Follow the installation guides and make sure you are either WPA or WEP encrypted (WPA is the preferred method).

Try not to run long cables to hook up computers to a router or a switcher.  With today’s wireless technologies, this is less and less relevant. 

A standard rule of thumb – cables should not be any longer than 20’-30’ when possible.  Anything longer will degrade the quality of the signal.

These days, the setup guides that come with routers, plus the network manager software in the computer’s operating system are usually plenty to get started right away. 

Here is one area where Apple really shines; setting up an Apple router (Airport Extreme or Express) with a Mac is basically fool proof. 

So for any beginners out there, if you are using Apple products, you will be on the Internet in less than 5 minutes! 

If you have any specific questions, please contact me through AppleHits and I’ll do my best to answer.

Features of a Router:

The market is flooded with routers, and lucky for the consumers, this means cheaper prices and more options and features! 

Of course, before any purchase, consult such resources as CNet or Consumer Reports to get a better idea of a product and to access a large pool of consumer feedback. 

But usually any router made by Apple, Linksys, Netgear or D-Link will be a solid purchase. 

Today’s fastest routers are working on a prototype standard known as “Wireless Draft N” which transfers data wirelessly at 600 Mbit/s. 

Notice I said “prototype” – IEEE is still working on a perfected standard, but we are at the point where most “Draft N” products play nice together, so the basic consumer should have no fear. 

Previous slower WiFi standards included “A”, “B”, and “G”.  Do not get too bogged down in the letters, most routers on today’s market (and the ones reviewed below) will work with N/G/B/A wireless devices.

And unless you are transferring large files (basically movies and TV shows), you will not notice any difference between N/G/B/A standards. 

To help refute a myth, “Wireless Draft N” will not make you surf the web any faster, “Wireless Draft N” will increase network speed between your computers and other devices. 

For example, if you want to share documents, music, movies and files over your network, they will transfer faster if you have a “Wireless Draft N” router and a “Wireless N” enabled devices to send AND receive the signal.

So now you ask – “Eric, if all routers can read the “Draft N” specification and are backwards compatible with A/B/G, how can I decide between al these routers on the market?” This is a great question, and here is where I hope to help you out. 

Today’s home networks are robust; it is more than just sharing Internet access and being able to transfer files from one computer to another. 

With today’s home networking you can share printers, a common drive, back up files on a timely basis and share media amongst computers and TVs (both home and while traveling!)

Before looking at specific routers, let’s me provide a quick glossary of router features so we have a common reference point for these terms:

Wireless Networking Standards – As describe above, we have A/B/G/N standards (though N is still in the draft stage).

Hard Wired connections options – Gigabit is the fastest available option, though 10/100 is enough for 95% of home network users.  10/100 is cheaper, fancy cables are not required and it will work on all current products in the market.  Your computer will need a Gigabit card to be able to process wired connections at that faster speed.

Print Sharing – This is the ability to hook up a wired printer (not a more expensive wireless printer, those can be hooked up to any wireless network) and being able to share that wired printer amongst all the computers on the network.

Network Storage – Just like sharing the printer, this feature allows you to hook up an external USB hard drive to the network.  You can put files on the network hard drive and share them amongst all the computers on the network.  Some of these network storage devices offer even more features and backup utilities, and those will be discussed in another article in the near future.

Dual Band – Simply put, the “Draft N” is still that, in draft format.  Therefore, some manufactures are putting their “N” specification on a 5 GHz spectrum while others are putting it on an older 2.5 GHz spectrum.  Dual band will allow you to utilize the “N specification” on your wireless card, regardless if it is 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz.  Some Dual Band routers will read both 2.5 GHz and 5GHz simultaneously, while others can read both 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz, but not at the same time.

UPnP – We will get to this in a future lesson, but for now, just know UPnP is a method to be able to stream media over your router.

Stay tuned for more on this topic…..

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