To Wire or Not to Wire
Wireless networks are en vogue, but your installation won't be successful unless you chose the right type of network and set it up properly. Wired networks require that each computer be connected via a wire to a central location, called a switch or hub. This often involves installing cables through walls and ceilings and can present a challenge for anyone.
If the computers in your home or office are all within 500 feet of each other, a wireless network might be for you. A wireless network has no cables. It can connect computers on different floors of a building or even across the street. Aside from the obvious benefit of not having wires, wireless networks are more convenient since the setup, configuration, and reconfiguration can often be done within minutes, without extensive planning.
Wireless networks, however, are not as fast as wired networks. If you play computer games or want to view streaming video or other high-speed multimedia, a wireless network might not have enough capacity. But, if you just want to check e-mail and view web pages, a wireless network is a good choice. To install a wireless network, you need a Wireless Access Point and a wireless network card for each computer. You will need to buy a wireless network card for each desktop computer, although most newer laptops come equipped with one.
Security is not a large concern in a wired network, since someone would have to physically connect to a wired network to break in. In wireless networks, a car parked outside with a laptop could easily connect to your network if you don't have proper security in place. To prevent this from happening, encrypt your wireless network connections, or set a password to access the network, or do both. Do It Yourself or Call a Professional?
If you decide to use a wired network, consider whether you will install it yourself or hire a professional. If you have a small number of computers that are all situated very close to one another, you may be able to buy pre-assembled network cables and connect them yourself. If you need to wire multiple floors and lay wire through ceilings and walls, you need a professional installation. If you go this route, it is best to begin with a floor plan of your office or home, determine what your current needs are, and consider how the network design can be adapted to future needs. A professional installer should be familiar with EIA/TIA standards, local wiring and electrical codes, and making custom cables. Network cabling professionals are often judged by the neatness of their work, because sloppy cabling is more apt to deteriorate over time, harder to manage, and poses more of a fire risk.
Having a wireless network or a wired network is not mutually exclusive. Many small offices have a wired network in addition to one or more wireless networks, depending on their needs. Wireless networks are continuing to get faster, more secure, and less expensive. Wired networks will continue to coexist with wireless networks, often in the same homes and offices.
Deryck Richards is the founder and managing partner of Desktronix. With an extensive educational background in computer information systems, Deryck currently manages hosting and data center operations for Desktronix. He also provides system administration and technical support directly to small businesses as he has since 2000. His areas of expertise include networking, Windows, Linux, and Macintosh systems and he is the author of The Guide to Technology for Small Business. For more information on Desktronix, visit www.desktronix.com