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Wired
PC
Figure 4-5: Printer
A wired AP
home
network
Internet
with an
AP and Cable/DSL
router
wireless Cable/DSL
modem
stations
added.
84 Part II: Making Plans


Budgeting for Your Wireless Network
Assuming that you already own at least one computer (and probably more)
and one or more printers that you intend to add to the network, we do not
include the cost of computers and printers in this section. In addition, the
cost of subscribing to an ISP is not included in the following networking cost
estimates.

Wireless networking hardware ” essentially APs and wireless network
adapters ” is available at a wide range of prices. With a little planning, you
won™t be tempted to bite on the first product that you see. You can use the
following guidelines when budgeting for an AP and wireless network
adapters. Keep in mind, however, that the prices for this equipment will cer-
tainly change over time, perhaps rapidly. Don™t use this information as a sub-
stitute for due diligence and market research on your part.



Pricing access points
At the time of this writing, wireless access points for home use range in price
from about $75 (street price) to around $200.

Street price is the price at which you can purchase the product from a retail
outlet, such as a computer-electronics retail store or an online retailer. The
dreaded suggested retail price is often higher.

Multifunction access points that facilitate connecting multiple computers to
the Internet ” wireless Internet gateways if they contain modem functionality,
and wireless gateways if they don™t ” range in price from about $100 to $300.

You need to budget roughly $100 for an IEEE 802.11b AP and about $120 for
an IEEE 802.11g (draft) AP. An IEEE 802.11a AP will run $150, but prices are
coming down. Add about $50 for a dual-mode (a/b or a/g) model.

The price differentials between the cheapest APs and the more expensive
models will generally correspond to differences in features. For example, APs
that support the IEEE 802.11a wireless standard are more expensive than sim-
ilar APs that support only the much slower IEEE 802.11b standard. Similarly,
an AP that is also a cable/DSL router costs more than an AP from the same
manufacturer that doesn™t include the router feature. You can also expect to
pay a little bit more for the most popular brand names, such as Linksys and
Microsoft. You don™t need to buy the most expensive AP in order to get ade-
quate performance.
85
Chapter 4: Planning a Wireless Home Network

You might run across APs from well-known companies such as Cisco and
3COM that are significantly more expensive than the devices typically pur-
chased for home use. These “industrial-strength” products include advanced
features and come with management software that enable corporate IT
departments to efficiently and securely deploy enterprise-level wireless net-
works. The underlying technology, including the speed and the range of the
wireless radios used, are essentially the same as those used in the economi-
cally priced APs used in most wireless home networks; but the additional fea-
tures and capabilities of these enterprise-level products save IT personnel
countless hours and headaches rolling out dozens of APs in a large wireless
network.



Pricing wireless network adapters
Wireless network adapters range in price from $25 to $125, depending on
whether you purchase IEEE 802.11a, b, or g technology and whether you pur-
chase a PC Card, USB, or internal variety.

Like APs, wireless network adapters that support the IEEE 802.11a standard
are somewhat more expensive than their IEEE 802.11g counterparts. An
802.11a/b/g card will cost around $75“$150. NETGEAR™s WAG511 tri-standard
card had a street price of $80 as we went to press. Wow!



A sample budget
If your plan involves a cable Internet connection, a laptop computer, and a
home desktop computer that you want to connect via an IEEE 802.11b home
wireless network, Table 4-2 shows a reasonable hardware budget.


Table 4-2 Hypothetical IEEE 802.11b Wireless
Home Network Budget
Item Price Range Quantity Needed
Access point $75“$200 1
Wireless network adapters $25“$100 2
Network cable $10“$20 1
Cable or DSL modem (optional) $75“$100 1
86 Part II: Making Plans


Planning Security
Any network can be attacked by a persistent hacker, but a well-defended net-
work will discourage most hackers sufficiently to keep your data safe.
However, it™s easier for a hacker to gain access to a wireless network through
the air than to gain physical access to a wired network, making wireless net-
works more vulnerable to attack, even home networks. Because a Wi-Fi signal
is a radio signal, it keeps going and going and going, like ripples in a pond in a
weaker and weaker form, until it hits something solid enough to stop it.
Anyone with a portable PC, wireless network adapter, and an external
antenna in a van driving by or even in your neighbor™s house next door has a
reasonable chance of accessing your wireless network. (Such skullduggery
is known as war driving.) So you must plan for security. We give you all the
down-and-dirty details in Chapter 10, but here are some key things to keep
in mind:

Internet security: Any Internet connection ” especially always-on
broadband connections, but dialup connections, too ” can be vulnera-
ble to attacks arriving from the Internet. In order to keep your PCs safe
from the bad folks (who might be thousands of miles away), you should
turn on any firewall features available in your AP or router. Some fancier
APs or routers include a highly effective kind of firewall (a stateful
packet inspection [SPI] firewall), but even just the basic firewall pro-
vided by any NAT router can be quite effective. You should also consider
installing antivirus software as well as personal firewall software on each
PC or Mac on your network for an extra level of protection.
Airlink security: This is a special need of a wireless home network.
Wired networks can be made secure by what™s known as physical secu-
rity. That is, you literally lock your doors and windows, and no one can
plug into your wired network. In the wireless world, physical security is
impossible (you can™t wrangle those radio waves and keep them in the
house), so you need to implement airlink security. You can™t keep the
radio waves from getting out of the house, but you can make it very hard
for someone to do anything with them (like read the data that they con-
tain). Similarly, you can use airlink security to keep others from getting
onto your access point and freeloading on your Internet connection. The
primary means of providing airlink security today ” and new advances
are on the way ” is Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). You absolutely
should use WEP (and do a few other tricks that we discuss in Chapter 10)
to preserve the integrity of your wireless home network.
Chapter 5
Choosing Wireless Home
Networking Equipment
In This Chapter
Understanding the buying criteria for your wireless equipment
Selecting access points
Selecting a wireless networking adapter
Understanding gateways and routers




W hen you™re building something ” in this case, a wireless home
network ” the time comes when you have to make up your mind
what building supplies to buy. At a minimum, to set up a wireless home net-
work, you need an access point (AP) and a wireless networking adapter for
each computer or other network-enabled device that you want to have on the
network. This chapter helps you evaluate and choose among the growing
number of APs and wireless networking adapters on the market.

The advice in this chapter applies equally to PCs and Macs. You can use any
access point for a Mac as long as it has a Web interface (that is, it doesn™t
require a PC program to configure it). That having been said, if you have a
Mac, you might want to consider using Apple™s system because it™s easier to
set up and use. On the network adapter/client side of the link, AirPort cards
are definitely easier for a Mac owner.




Selecting Access Points
The heart of each wireless home network is the access point (AP), which is
also known as a base station. Depending on the manufacturer and included
features, the price of an AP suitable for home use ranges from about $75 to
$200. Differences exist from model to model, but even the lowest priced units
are surprisingly capable.
88 Part II: Making Plans

For most wireless home networks, the most important requirements for a
wireless access point are as follows (sort of in order of importance):

Certification and standards support
Compatibility and form factor
Bundled server and router functionality
Operational features
Security
Performance (range and coverage) issues
Manageability
Price
Warranties
Customer and technical support

With the exception of pricing (which we cover in Chapter 4), we explore the
selection of access point products in depth in terms of these requirements
throughout the following sections.

In Chapter 4, we describe how to plan the installation of a home wireless net-
work, including how to use your AP to determine the best location in your
house as well as the number of APs that you™ll need. If you can determine a
location that gives an adequate signal throughout your entire house, your AP
obviously is adequate. If some areas of your home aren™t covered, you™ll
either need one or more additional APs or a more powerful AP (and we tell
you how to do that in Chapter 18). Fortunately, most residences can be cov-
ered by the signal from a single AP.




Certification and Standards Support
We talk in Chapter 2 about the Wi-Fi Alliance and its certification process for
devices. At a minimum, you should ensure that your devices are Wi-Fi certi-
fied. To the degree that you™re buying pre-standard items (as was the case in
early 2003, when pre-standard 802.11g products were shipping before certifi-
cation testing had been started), understand from the vendor how future
changes are implemented (for example, firmware upgrades, as we describe
later in the chapter in the sidebar, “Performing firmware updates”).

A key part of standards support is multi-mode support: that is, the ability to
support more than one standard in a device, such as supporting 802.11a/b/g
in the same device. This can be accomplished in several ways:
89
Chapter 5: Choosing Wireless Home Networking Equipment

PC Card slot: The device could have a Personal Computer Memory Card
International Association (PCMCIA) card slot that can accept different
cards for each mode or a single card that is multi-mode.
Onboard support: The device can natively support the different stan-
dards onboard. In most cases, this is accomplished by actually having
one chip each for 802.11a and g. A good example of this is the NETGEAR
WAG511 Dual Band Wireless PC Card (www.netgear.com; $150), which is
the first card that supports 802.11a/b/g.
Note: You™ll run into some confusion in terms. Some companies call this
dual-mode, others say dual-band, and still others use multi-mode or multi-
band. These all kinda mean the same thing. Because the 802.11g stan-
dard is backward compatible to 802.11b, they are technically supporting
both a and g. What seems to make the most sense is dual-band, tri-mode,
which means that the AP operates in the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands,
in any of the three standards modes.

Like we write in Chapter 2, we see the industry converging toward supporting
all standards in one device . . . and that device being smart enough to sense
and simultaneously support transmissions in multiple bands. The current
level of technology is not sophisticated enough to deftly manage this yet ”
current products tend to support one at a time ” but this is an area where
the technology is changing fast. To keep current, read product reviews
because good reviewers can tell you when devices make inroads in better
supporting these technologies simultaneously. In Chapter 20, we give you
some good sites to check out.




Compatibility and Form Factor
When choosing an AP, make sure that it (and its setup program) is compati-
ble with your existing components, check its form factor, and determine
whether wall-mountability and outdoor use are important to you.

Hardware and software platform: Make sure that the device that you™re
buying supports the hardware and software platform that you have. Certain
wireless devices only support Macs or only support PCs. And some devices
only support certain versions of software.

Setup program and your operating system: Make sure that the setup pro-
gram for the AP that you plan to buy will run on your computer™s operating
system and the next version of that operating system (if it™s available). Setup
programs will run only on the type of computer for which they were written.
A setup program designed to run on Windows, for example, won™t run on the

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