Sanborn's Guide to Wireless Networking

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Wireless networking works great. For the most part. As standards settle and technology improves, you will find wireless networks working seamlessly and worry free but you still have some things to work on and decide before you install one.

Wireless networking has gotten more confusing again as we wait for the final adoption of the wireless standard 802.11n which allows for speeds over the current g standard of 54mbps. It will probably be still slower than the traditional wired lan 100mbps networking you get with traditional Category 5e cabling but for most of what we do, it will certainly be fast enough. If you think about what most of us do with wireless networks, it is to get on the internet and do email, any of the wireless standards will do just fine because even 5mbps is fast enough for that simply because of the limitations of the broadband access you have. What you need to think about is the other things you will do with your networking. If you want access to other computers files and printers, again, the slower networking will work just fine. Where it gets interesting is if you want to do file transfer or data backup on your wireless network. The problem here becomes the size of the data you want to transfer across the wireless network. Backing up your documents for example, again, takes little bandwidth because text files and spreadsheets really don’t take up much space. But, if you want to backup your entire disk, your pictures, or other large files, you want the largest amount of bandwidth you can get your hands on. Now backing up your computer takes another column and a half and hopefully, you already have a plan in place because if you try to backup even just 10 gigabytes worth of data across a network, you better plan on spending all night doing it.

One thing to remember is that the speed of your wireless notebook depends on the speed of the wireless connection point you are using! If you have an old "g" wireless router or internet connection, no point buying a new "n" card for your notebook.

Right now, the 54mbps standard 802.11g which is the most common, gives you a good mix of easy access to computers and networks and a reasonable performance for copying data files all at a reasonable price. Again, as long as you don’t have much to transfer on a regular basis and what I consider much would be less than a couple of hundred megabytes of data to transfer, then you should be ok. If you need the higher performance of the network, then look at the 802.11n wireless standard that is coming sometime soon (sometime in 2009 we hope). While most companies have the hardware, look for the prices to come down quickly as more is introduced.

Pricing for these networks is getting pretty good and as long as you stick with good quality hardware, you will do fine. The problem is if you start mixing hardware companies you may have problems with the setup partly because a company like Linksys, for example, while they have a great wizard program to set things up for you, uses what they call a pass phrase to generate a code for the wireless encryption. If you use someone else’s hardware on one of your notebooks for example, you might have to figure out what it translated to and manually enter it.

Data security and intrusion protection should also be high on your list of requirements when looking at wireless. If your wireless system is connecting you at a broadband network, you should be sure it contains some hardware firewall features. Those firewall features should include SPI which is Stateful Packet Inspection to check each packet coming and going; NAT, Network Address Translation routing to hide the computers behind the firewall to the rest of the internet, and Denial of Service (DOS) attack protection. If your hardware box doesn’t include these, you should also consider including a software firewall application on each of the computers attached to your wireless system. And as to software firewalls, I don’t include the built in Windows software, it is too weak. Go with a good company like Symantec's Norton Internet Security or Kaspersky's Internet Security Suite. For the hardware firewall wireless router, my favorite right now is the Netgear WNR3500 model that connects your wireless network to a broadband network and has 4 ports onboard for locally situated computers.

The good news about security, is that wireless networks have their own type of security to keep your wireless network free from prying computers hanging out outside your door. What you need to remember if you are using a wireless broadband router is that you have two different security needs. One is to keep people from the broadband world from hacking into your network, and the second is to keep people from the wireless world away as well. So here is what you need to look at from the wireless side.

1. The first thing to do is to change the password on the router. This is a basic item that will keep unauthorized people from changing the settings on your wireless network.

2. Next is to change the SSID name. This is the name, similar to a work group name in a normal network, that the network calls out to each wireless computer and if you don’t change the name, the defaults are easy to find.

3. If you have a router or access point to go to, then make sure you are in what they call infrastructure mode rather than ad-hoc which is used to go from a single computer to another. The “infrastructure” mode tells the notebook or remote computer that it is looking for a network as opposed to another computer sitting out there.

4. To keep other computers from listening in, disable the broadcast mode in the router so that it doesn’t constantly send out a signal letting anyone know that it is there. That way, you have to know the SSID of the router in order to connect and if you use a name not easy to guess, then it makes it more difficult for people to tap in.

5. The next security measure is to enable one of the WPA flavors of encryption rather than the older WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) which is the encryption between the router and the computers talking to it. Even if someone was able to guess the SSID, if you have encryption enabled, they still can’t get into your network.

6. Finally, what you can do to keep unwanted computers out of your network is to enter in the MAC addresses into the router’s permitted access listing thus enabling the MAC address filtering to only allow those computers who are on the list.

Once each of these are in place, your wireless side of the network is safe from the outside world.

Lastly, the problem you may have next will be if you decide to go to another wireless network like you would find in a Starbucks or at a hotel. Those will have different requirements and you will need to setup your notebook’s wireless connection unit differently. Also be ware that many of the wireless places charge for the access. Panera Bread and Borders Bookstore doesn't.


A source of networking products

Netgear Wireless Products

From How Stuff

Another good source on networking

How Fast Is The Network ??

IEEE 802.11n Wireless Lan 100 mbps
IEEE 802.11g Wireless Lan 54 mbps
Fast Ethernet 100mbps
Gigabit Ethernet 1000 mbps
Cable TV 1000+mbps

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This Page Last Updated: January 18, 2014 .