Mon, 17 Mar 2003

Routers for wireless Home Network

Lately, we have been excitedly talking about Wi-Fi, the wireless access to LAN and the Internet. Who would not? The hot spots are becoming increasingly available. A recent Intel study found that, as of the end of last month, there were around 3,700 hot spots all over the U.S. Portland had the most per capita, and next were San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, Orange County, Washington, San Diego, Denver, Ventura and Boston. Most of these hot spots were found in hotels, airports and cafes, the study found.

A survey by Ipsos-Reid also discovered that 38 percent of Americans knew what Wi-Fi was all about. It is quite amazing how fast the new technology has caught on.

At present, the brand-new Centrino package from Intel also helps ensure that wireless networking capability will become integrated into our next notebooks. Intel is stepping up its efforts to make hot spots available everywhere. It is a logical move, as the more hot spots there are, the greater the demand for Centrino notebooks.

But, what if we want to use Wi-Fi at home?

In the past, if you wanted to build a small home network, you would connect all of our PCs to a router with unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cables. You would then configure one of the PCs to be your network's gateway to the Internet. You would then connect this PC to a cable modem via a second Network Interface Card (NIC).

Preferably, this PC would run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If it ever went down, no other PC in the house could connect to the Internet. A good router should also be able to function as a gateway.

The UTP cables may not cost much, but they can be messy. They collect dust, and also keep you tethered. Now, if you can just sit down at one of the tables at Starbucks cafe in Singapore and start surfing the Internet immediately, why shouldn't you be able to do the same at home?

Certainly you can. All you need is a Wi-Fi router -- or switch. There is plenty of choice on the market, and the products are upgraded all the time. You will have to check user reports on the Internet before you go to the computer store.

D-Link, for example, offers its AirPlus wireless broadband router. It features advanced Firewall protection and parental control, in addition to a maximum speed of 11 Mbps. LinkSys, NetGear and 3Com are just some of the other companies that make the same devices.

What if the radio signal is not strong enough? There are also signal boosters that you can buy at stores. Siemens even has SpeedStream 2524, a device that uses the HomePlug powerline data networking standard to help extend the reach of your access points.

What do you have to check out when buying a wireless router? Choose one that supports both PCs and Macs. Next, check the coverage of the radio signals. You should be able to take your notebook at least 10 meters from the router without dropping the connection. A good router should also provide a print server function. If you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), the router should also support it. A built-in filter for Universal Resource Locator (URL) will help, if you have children at home.

Keep in mind, too, that different flavors of the 802.11 standard are also evolving. The one that is already accepted by the industry is the 802.11b, which is capable of delivering a maximum speed of 11 Mbps.

The 802.11a has begun to be used, and some devices are already designed to be compatible with both the 802.11a and 802.11b. The 802.11a is faster, it is capable of carrying data at the speed of 54 Mbps. Then there is the 802.11g flavor, which has not been ratified by IEEE. It will be some time before the market really picks up the faster flavors. -- Zatni Arbi