Wireless Networking Essentials (Part 1) : Wireless Adapters Or NICs, Wireless Router & Wireless Access Point

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Jackson provides a whistle-stop tour of all things wireless

Wireless technology allows you to create a network without the need for any physical cabling. Wireless networks can be set up discretely or can make up part of a wider overall network along with conventional wired devices. In this guide we will take a look at the essential components of a wireless network, explore their limitations, and how to improve your speed.

Description:  Implementing Cisco Unified Wireless Networking Essentials (IUWNE)

Implementing Cisco Unified Wireless Networking Essentials (IUWNE)

Wireless Components

Before you can set up a wireless network in your home you need to understand what components make up a typical wireless network. There is a fair amount of overlap in modern hardware, as single devices can provide multiple functions. For example some wireless routers can be configured to behave as access points, and some access points can be configured as wireless repeaters. Many devices now have internal wireless NICs built in, whereas others can have wireless functionality added via a card.

Wireless Adapters Or NICs

Description: Wireless Adapters Or NICs

All computers require a wireless adapter or network interface card (NIC) in order to connect to a wireless network. On all modern laptops a wireless NIC is built in as standard, or for older models this functionality can be added or improved by using a CardBus or ExpressCard slot-in upgrade. Most desktops are static in nature and therefore don't come with a wireless card installed. You add wireless networking to these products by installing a wireless networking card internally, or externally via a USB adapter. Other devices that use wireless also have built in adapters, such as games consoles, printers, tablets, smartphones and smart TVs. When choosing your wireless adapter, consider what speed you need to get the best out of your existing network. If in doubt, go for the fastest speed you can afford as these newer cards invariably fall back to legacy modes if needs be.

Wireless Router

Description: Wireless Router

A wireless router acts as the hub of most wireless networks. It acts as a centralised point through which all other devices communicate. If, for example, you want to connect a laptop to a wireless printer, you don't configure them to communicate to either directly. You connect both to the router,which then relays the communications between the two devices. This way you can flexibly add or remove wireless devices from your network, all the while retaining connectivity between each and every one of them. If you have a desktop computer connected to a router via a cable, it is not necessary to buy a wireless card in order for it to speak to your laptops and other wirelessly attached devices. Again, the router acts as a hub, facilitating communications between the various devices.

As with all kinds of router, the primary purpose of a wireless router is to take a single Internet connection and allow its distribution among multiple devices. Although a wired router is limited by the number of Ethernet ports it physically has in it (most entry-level units have four), a wireless router can allow simultaneous connectivity to dozens of devices. It is important to remember, however, that the speed of the wireless connection has to be shared among all devices.

Wireless Access Point

Description: Wireless Access Point

A wireless access point is effectively a wireless switch. It allows you to add multiple wireless devices to an existing wired network infrastructure. For example, if you have a wired router, you can add wireless functionality by plugging in an access point to one of the ports. Many modern wireless access points can also be set to 'repeater mode', whereby they double up as wireless range extenders or 'repeaters' (see below). If you have a PC that you want to isolate from the Internet for any reason, you can give it the ability to communicate with wireless peripherals like printers or smart TVs and media centres by plugging in a wireless access point.

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