Wireless technology (Wi-Fi) explained
Wi-Fi wireless Internet allows users to access the World Wide Web through whatever device they are using, assuming it has Wi-Fi capabilities. Desktop computers may need to have a special wireless card installed before they are able to access Wi-Fi networks, but most laptops have this capability already built in. Some NetBook laptops are unable to connect to networks which use the latest 802-11n standard, but can still connect to the more widely used 802-11b and 802-11g.
Through wireless Internet, users can move throughout an area while being able to check email, access web pages, and perform other tasks which involve the World Wide Web. The limitations of Internet in this case depend upon the device which is being used and on any restrictions set by the owner of the network. Otherwise, Wi-Fi Internet provides all the same functionality as any regular Internet connection would.
By using special Wi-Fi media adapters, an Ethernet system can be converted for wireless use throughout an office building or other general area. The Ethernet system can then be accessed by anything with the capability to use it, similarly to Internet. The difference between Internet and Ethernet Wi-Fi systems doesn’t involve the wireless connection itself, which is basically the same thing either way: a router which is connected to the physical network and which broadcasts wireless signals.
Wi-Fi Ethernet allows for wireless LANs, Local Area Networks, to be formed. Through these networks, users can access data on a local server and view other computers which are connected to the network. This sort of network is convenient in many circumstances where a small, locally accessible server serves better than the Internet itself. It does not, however, permit access to the Internet (although dual Internet and Ethernet accessibility through a single router is possible, if both networks are installed within the building). For more information, please see the other published articles on Ethernet and LANs.
Pros and Cons of Wi-Fi Wireless Technology
The advantages of wireless technology, combined with the compatibility brought about by the Wi-Fi Alliance, should be fairly obvious. A wireless network allows portability for users within a building, so they can travel short distances while still using their laptops or other portable devices with full functionality. It also all but eliminates the mess and hassle of cables: even though the wireless router itself must be physically connected to the network cables, no extra wires will need to be present in public areas. The lack of cables also means that nobody will be accidentally knocking wires out, which helps to prevent some problems that could be caused by an unexpectedly lost connection.
Of course, everything has cons as well as pros, and wireless networks are no exception. The main problem with wireless networks is their lack of range: even a device which complies with 802-11n has a maximum 300-foot range, and some devices, especially small NetBooks, are not compatible with that standard. Additionally, even the 802-11n standard can’t compare to fibre optic cable in terms of speed and bandwidth. Wireless networks may also be susceptible to interference even with the WEP security protocol. Finally, having Wi-Fi routers placed too far apart or too closely together may result in dead zones or in crossing signals which make it impossible to connect properly. Fortunately, many of these cons may be circumvented with a skilled professional performing wireless network planning and installation.
To avoid dead zones or ineffective overlapping signals, routers must be placed in strategic locations within a building. Wi-Fi surveys take the building’s dimensions and construction and the range of different routers into account to be sure they are placed effectively. The best way to determine where Wi-Fi routers should be placed is to have a professional perform an on-site consultation. Active Communication Company Ltd provides these consultations for free, and can assist any company with building a custom network which is perfect for them from start to finish.
Naturally, in this age of technology, there are computer-based options available to conduct automated surveys as well. Software from the Internet can calculate the specifications of a building and the range of different types of Wi-Fi networks to help determine where routers should be placed for maximum coverage and effectiveness. Buildings which already have a Wi-Fi network in place and wish to add a new router or two may find it more convenient to simply download the software. However, for any network which is being built from scratch or added to substantially, a professional and personal on-site survey is highly recommended.
Choosing the Right Wi-Fi Standard
Four different Wi-Fi standards are commonly used today: 802-11a, 802-11b, 802-11g and 802-11n. There are, of course, different pros and cons specific to each standard that should be considered when setting up a network.
The 802-11a standard was created at the same time as 802-11b, but did not gain popularity until slightly later. The two standards are incompatible since they run on different frequencies, so users must choose one or the other (if either). In general, 802-11a is used more for businesses and offices than for homes. It is more costly, but is also faster than its counterpart with a bandwidth of up to 54 MBits/sec.
Pros: Quick, not easily susceptible to interference
Cons: Most expensive of all standards, short range
The 802-11b standard has a wide following for at-home use, but falls short when it comes to business purposes. It is inexpensive but comparably slow, with a maximum bandwidth of only 11 MBits/sec. It also uses an unregulated frequency, making it susceptible to interference from other devices.
Pros: Least expensive, good range
Cons: Slowest of all standards, susceptible to interference
The 802-11g standard was released in 2002, and provided a major upgrade to previous standards by combining the best features of the standards which preceded it. It is backwards compatible with the 802-11b standard.
Pros: Quick (54 MBits/sec), good range, backwards compatible, less expensive than 802-11a
Cons: Susceptible to interference
The newest standard, 802-11n improves on 802-11g in terms of both speed and range (up to 300 MBits/sec and 300 feet, respectively). It is backwards compatible with 802-11g. However, since the standard is not yet finalised, many devices are not yet built to include 802-11n compatibility.
Pros: Fastest speed, longest range, resistant to interference, backwards compatible
Cons: Second most expensive (behind 802-11a), standard is not yet finalised, incompatible products
Choosing the right blend of affordability, speed and range is important when setting up a network for office use.