All about Wireless
Welcome to the future. You still can not buy an airline ticket to the Mars, but you can now access the Internet nearly anywhere with wireless devices as small as your palm. Using a wireless connection and your notebook or handheld PC, you can e-mail from the couch, instant message from your patio, or do web research for a term paper at Starbucks.
And wireless is not just for people on the go. You can network your home PCs and printers without crisscrossing the hallways with cabling. You can print digital photos or listen to digital music wirelessly with an digital media receiver (Zune and many others). Everyone in your house or dorm room can share a single printer without switch boxes or other wire-related headaches.
What follows are the basic building blocks of a wireless network for PCs, notebooks, and handheld PCs.
What wireless means
So what’s the wireless part? It is Just the part between your computer and your Internet connection. For example, you still connect to the Internet through your cable modem, but your cable modem isn’t actually connected to your computer. So the speed of your wireless connection is still dependent on the type of connection you have. In other words, you won’t be able to maximize super-speedy Wireless G on a dial-up modem.
When it comes to wireless, there are two different types: Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) and Bluetooth.
Wi-Fi refers to two types of wireless protocols that can work with each other: IEEE 802.11b (“Wireless B”) and the newer IEEE 802.11g (“Wireless G”). Both can connect your computers really fast: 11 Megabits per second (Mbps) for Wireless B, or 54Mbps for Wireless G. By comparison, Ethernet networks connect at 100Mbps.
Note, however, that just because the network can go that fast, it doesn’t mean your Internet connection will suddenly be upgraded to hypersonic speeds. Cable modems usually top out at 1Mbps, and basic DSL service is typically 256Kbps, and that won’t change. The point is that your wireless network certainly won’t slow down your Internet connection, and it flat-out flies if you’re playing a game across the local network.
Both Wireless B and G can broadcast 150 feet, though you can extend the range on Wireless G networks by overlapping broadcast points. This is known as making a daisy chain.
You don’t have to broadcast the full 150 feet. For security purposes, the Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router uses a simple web interface to control the range of the broadcast, to set up passwords for all users, and to encrypt all transmissions in the unlikely event that someone tries to electronically eavesdrop.
There’s also something called Bluetooth, which is the industry standard for personal area network (PAN) communication, a short-range wireless technology meant to replace wiring like parallel cords and USB cables. The most common uses of Bluetooth are printing or swapping files between a handheld PC and a notebook or PC.
With Bluetooth you not only experience the benefits of fewer cables and cords, but you also have more convenient synchronizing, file sharing, and printing. And because Bluetooth uses a very low power signal, it also preserves battery power. This is especially handy with handheld PCs.
Wi-Fi setup building blocks
Now lets look at the key components and how they all fit together. We’ll start where your Internet connection begins.
Instead of plugging your cable or DSL modem into your computer, you plug it into a base station. The base station broadcasts your Internet connection. You may see it referred to as a “wireless access point” or a “wireless router.” A router lets you share your Internet connection and files, plus it has extra Ethernet ports into which you can plug non-wireless computers or accessories. It’s a sort of bridge. A wireless access point is used to daisy-chain your network and share files, but it can’t be used to share your Internet connection.
This is the buzzword to know. A hot spot is the area covered by the wireless signal. Your hot spot may be a little smaller if it has to broadcast through several walls or other types of obstructions. Hot spots can be found in a variety of places: hotels, airports, and even Starbucks!
Wireless card in a PC
Finally, you need to add a wireless card to your notebook or Desktop. The adapter slides right into your PC-card adapter. It receives signals from the base station, and it broadcasts signals back. You’ll find the home-networking and Internet-sharing setup tools incredibly intuitive and simple on almost every Operating system that you work on be it Windows XP, Vista or a Mac; you should be set up in a matter of minutes.
Wireless Enabled notebooks
If you’re in the market for a new notebook PC, look for notebook that has wireless access built in. This results in better reception and power management.
Sharing a printer
So, once you’ve e-mailed from the couch and done web research while sunning on the patio, you certainly don’t want to tether yourself to your desk just to print. Enter the networked printer.
The printer is connected first to a print server with its USB or parallel cord. The print server is then plugged into one of the Ethernet ports on the back of your wireless router, or even connected with Wi-Fi. The ease of Windows XP will get you up and running quickly.
Alternatively, look for a Bluetooth-enabled or infrared printer. Bluetooth will let you print wirelessly, without a print server, within 30 feet (plus or minus, depending on how many walls you’re broadcasting through). Infrared technology requires an uninterrupted “line of sight” between notebook and printer.