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Faster: Wired lines can reach 1000 Mbps in speed, whereas wireless
homes tend to be in the 10 Mbps and soon 100 Mbps range. Both wire-
less and wired technologies are getting faster and faster, but wired will
always be ahead.
More reliable: Wireless signals are prone to interference and fluctua-
tions; wired connections typically are more stable and reliable.
More secure: You don™t have to worry about your signals traveling
through the air and being intercepted by snoopers, like with unsecured
wireless systems.
Economical over the long term: The incremental cost of adding Cat 5e
voice and data cabling and RG-6 coaxial cabling into your house ” over
a 30-year mortgage ” will be almost nothing each month.
Salable: More and more homebuyers are not only looking for well-wired
homes but are discounting homes without the infrastructure. As good as
wireless is, it is not affixed to the house and is carried with you when
you leave. Most new homes have structure wiring in the walls.

If you™re building a new home or renovating an old one, we absolutely recom-
mend that you consider running the latest wiring in the walls to each of your
rooms. That doesn™t mean that you won™t have a wireless network in your
home ” you will. It just will be different than if you were wholly reliant on
wireless for your networking.

If you choose to use network cable, it should ideally be installed in the walls,
just like electrical and phone wiring. Network jacks (outlets) are installed in
the walls in rooms where you would expect to use a computer. Connecting
your computer to a wired network is just as easy as plugging a phone into a
phone jack ” after the wiring is in place, that is.

Without question, the most economical time to install network cable in a
home is during the home™s initial construction. In upscale neighborhoods,
especially in communities near high-tech businesses, builders often wire new
homes with network cable as a matter of course. In most cases, however,
installation of network cable in a new home is an option or upgrade that™s
installed only if the new owner orders it and pays a premium. Installing a
structured wiring solution for a home can cost at least $2,000“$3,000, and
that™s for starters.

Although certainly possible, installation of network cable in an existing home
is much more difficult and expensive than installing cable during construc-
tion. If you hire an electrician to run the cable, you can easily spend thou-
sands of dollars to do what would have cost a few hundred dollars during
Chapter 1: Introducing Wireless Home Networking

your home™s construction. If you™re comfortable drilling holes in your walls
and crawling around in attics and crawl spaces, you can install the cabling
yourself for the cost of the cable and outlets.

The reality is that no home will ever be purely wireless or wireline (wired).
Each approach has benefits and costs, and they will coexist in any house. If
you™re building a new house, most experts tell you to spend the extra money
on a structured wiring solution because it adds value to your house and you
can better manage all the wiring in your home. We agree. But no wiring solu-
tion can be everywhere that you want it to be. Thus, wireless is a great com-
plement to your home, which is why we advocate a whole home wireless
network for your entire home to use.

Installing wireless home networks
If you™re networking an existing home or are renting your home, wireless has
fabulous benefits:

Portable: You can take your computing device anywhere in the house
and be on the network. Even if you have a huge house, you can intercon-
nect wireless access points to have a whole home wireless network.
Flexible: You™re not limited to where a jack is on the wall; you can net-
work anywhere.
Cost effective: You can start wireless networking for a couple of hun-
dred dollars. Your wiring contractor can™t do much with that!
Clean: You won™t have to tear down walls or trip over wires when they
come out from underneath the carpeting.

What™s more, there™s really no difference how you use your networked com-
puter, whether it™s connected to the network by a cable or by a wireless net-
working device. Whether you™re sharing files, a printer, your entertainment
system, or the Internet over the network, the procedures are the same on a
wireless network as on a wired network. In fact, you can mix wired and wire-
less network equipment on the same network with no change in how you use
a computer on the network.

Time for the fine print. We™d be remiss if we weren™t candid and mention any
potential drawbacks to wireless networks compared with wired networks.
The possible drawbacks fall into four categories:

Data speed: Wireless networking equipment does transmit data at
slower speeds than wired networking equipment. Wired networks are
already networking at gigabit speeds, although the fastest wireless net-
working standards (in the best situations) tops out at 54 Mbps. (Some
16 Part I: Wireless Networking Fundamentals

vendors have proprietary extensions that will take the speed higher, but
even these top out at a little more than 100 Mbps in the best scenarios.)
But for almost all the uses that we can think of now, this is plenty fast.
Your Internet connection probably doesn™t exceed a few Mbps in speed,
so your wireless connection should be more than fast enough.
Radio signal range: Wireless signals fade when you move away from the
source. Some homes, especially older homes, might be built from materi-
als that tend to block the radio signals used by wireless networking
equipment, causing even faster signal degradation. If your home has
plaster walls that contain a wire mesh, the wireless networking equip-
ment™s radio signal might not reach all points in your home. Most
modern construction, however, uses drywall materials that reduce the
radio signal only slightly. As a result, most homeowners can reach all
points in their home with one centralized wireless access point (also
called a base station) and one wireless device in or attached to each per-
sonal computer. And if you need better coverage, you can just add
another access point ” we show you how in Chapter 18.
Radio signal interference: The most common type of wireless network-
ing technology uses a radio frequency that™s also used by other home
devices, such as microwave ovens and portable telephones. Some home
wireless network users, as a consequence, experience network problems
(the network slows down or the signal is dropped) caused by radio
signal interference.
Security: The radio signal from a wireless network doesn™t stop at the
outside wall of your home. A neighbor or even a total stranger could
access your network from an adjoining property or from the street
unless you implement some type of security technology to prevent
unauthorized access. To prevent unauthorized access, you can safe-
guard yourself with security technology that comes standard with the
most popular home wireless networking technology. However, it™s not
bulletproof, and it certainly won™t work if you don™t turn it on. For more
on wireless security, go to Chapter 10.

For our money, wireless networks compare favorably with wired networks for
most homeowners who didn™t have network wiring installed when the house
was built.

Picking a Wireless Standard
The good news about wireless networks is that there are multiple flavors,
each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The bad news is that
trying to decide which version to get when buying a system can get confusing.
Chapter 1: Introducing Wireless Home Networking

The good news is that very rapidly, the dropping prices of the wireless sys-
tems and fast-paced development is creating dual- and tri-mode systems on
the market that can speak many different wireless languages.

Here are the three major wireless systems on the market today:

IEEE 802.11a: Wireless networks that use the Institute for Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11a standard use the 5 GHz radio fre-
quency band. Equipment of this type is among the fastest wireless net-
working equipment widely available to consumers.
IEEE 802.11b: Home wireless networks that use the IEEE 802.11b stan-
dard use the 2.4 GHz radio band. This is the most popular standard in
terms of numbers of installed networks and numbers of users.
IEEE 802.11g: The last and newest member of the 802.11 wireless family,
IEEE 802.11g is coming to market as this book goes to press. In fact, only
a draft of the IEEE 802.11g specification has been approved with the
finalized specs due by mid-2003. In many ways, 802.11g offers the best of
both worlds ” backward compatibility with IEEE 802.11b networks (it,
too, operates over the 2.4 GHz radio frequency band) and the speed of
802.11a networks.

Note: Equipment that™s based on the IEEE 802.11a standard does not interop-
erate with equipment based on the IEEE 802.11b standard. Several manufac-
turers sell equipment, however, that supports both standards ” the best of
all worlds. And if you really want to hedge your bets, keep your eyes peeled
for the new wave of dual-mode, tri-standard IEEE 802.11a/b/g wireless net-
working equipment that™s on the streets.

Both IEEE 802.11a and IEEE 802.11b can carry the Wi-Fi logo ” a trademark
that™s short for wireless fidelity ” that™s licensed for use by the Wi-Fi Alliance
trade group, based on equipment that passes interoperability testing. (802.11g
will, too, when the standard is finalized and interoperability testing can

The terms surrounding wireless networking can get complex. First off, the
order of lettering isn™t really right because 802.11b was approved and hit the
market before 802.11a. Also, you™ll see the term Wi-Fi used a lot. (In fact, we
thought about calling this book Wi-Fi For Dummies because it™s used so
much.) Wi-Fi refers to the collective group of 802.11 specifications: 802.11a, b,
and g. You might sometimes see this group also called 802.11x networking,
where x can equal a, b, or g. To make matters more confusing, a higher-level
parent standard called 802.11 predates 802.11a, b, and g and is also used to
talk about the group of the three standards. Technically, it™s a standards
group over several other emerging specifications as well. For simplicity in
this book, we™re going to use 802.11 and Wi-Fi synonymously to talk about the
three standards as a group. We could have used 802.11x, but we just wanted
to save a lot of x™s (for our wives).
18 Part I: Wireless Networking Fundamentals

The differences between these three standards fall into five main categories:

Data speed: IEEE 802.11a and IEEE 802.11g networks are almost ten
times faster than IEEE 802.1b networks. However, IEEE 802.11b networks
are almost ten times faster than the fastest broadband Internet connec-
tion. Unless you expect to routinely share very large files over your net-
work, you probably wouldn™t be able to notice the difference in speed
between these two standards.
Price: IEEE 802.11a and g networking equipment is typically more expen-
sive than similar IEEE 802.11b equipment, but the price differential might
be temporary. IEEE 802.11b equipment has been on the market for a
longer period of time than 802.11a and g with dozens of products in the
marketplace. As a result, IEEE 802.11b will probably be the least expen-
sive version of Wi-Fi for some period of time. However if the first IEEE
802.11g products out the door are any indication, the price differential
between 802.11g and 802.11b will be negligible very soon.
Radio signal range: IEEE 802.11a wireless networks tend to have a
shorter maximum signal range than IEEE 802.11b and g networks. The
actual distances vary depending on the size construction of your home.
In most modern homes, however, all three of the competing standards
should provide adequate range.
Radio signal interference: The radio frequency band used by both IEEE
802.11b and IEEE 802.11g equipment is also used by other home devices,
such as microwave ovens and portable telephones, resulting sometimes
in network problems caused by radio signal interference. Very few other
types of devices currently use the radio frequency band employed by
the IEEE 802.11a standard.
Interoperability: Because IEEE 802.11a and IEEE 802.11b/g use different
frequency bands, they aren™t able to communicate over the same radio.
Several manufacturers, however, have already released products that
can operate with both IEEE 802.11a and IEEE 802.11b/g equipment simul-
taneously. By contrast, IEEE 802.11g equipment is designed to be back-
ward compatible with IEEE 802.11b equipment ” both operating on the
same frequency band ” but in early tests of the first IEEE 802.11g prod-
ucts, actual interoperability was often problematic. Nevertheless, it will
only be a matter of time before IEEE 802.11g is fully adopted, and multi-
standard (802.11 a/b/g) wireless networking equipment will be the norm.

Think of dual-mode, multi-standard devices as being in the same vein as
AM/FM radios. AM and FM stations transmit their signals in different ways,
but hardly anyone buys a radio that™s only AM anymore because almost all
the receiving units are AM/FM. The user selects which band he or she wants
to listen to at any particular time. With an 802.11a/b/g device, you can also
pick the band that you want to transmit and receive in.
Chapter 1: Introducing Wireless Home Networking

The Intel Centrino chip
You might start hearing the term Centrino with you™re in the market for a laptop, you™ll be con-
respect to wireless products. No, this isn™t a new fronted with a flood of advertising regarding the
atomic particle but Intel™s new wireless-enabled Centrino chipset. With Intel Inside and wireless
chip ” the chip that will bring wireless connec- at that, you can expect that when your children™s
tivity to most laptops on the planet. Representing friends come to your home for a sleepover,
Intel™s best technology for mobile PCs, the Intel they™ll be able to wirelessly connect their laptops
Centrino mobile technology includes a new back to their own homes so that they can say
mobile processor, related chipsets, and 802.11 good night to Mommy.
wireless network functions that have been opti-
mized, tested, and validated to work together. If

We expect that 802.11a/b/g products ” all-in-one devices ” will be the stan-
dard device that™s deployed in most home networks. This enables the home
network to be able to communicate with the protocols that it senses. We think,
however, that it™s going to be some time before this is a really seamless activity.
There are lots of issues of dealing with multiple protocols in the same wireless
area, and these are growing pains that will be worked through over time.

For most home networks, IEEE 802.11b wireless networks are the best choice
because they™re the least expensive, offer the best signal range, and provide
more than adequate data speed. It™s a great way to get started. However, the
prices for the faster (and compatible) 802.11g products are dropping so fast
that we urge you to look at upgrading to the faster g standardized products. If
you find that 802.11a is best for you, that™s okay, too. The reality is, however,
that the combined 802.11a/b/g units “future-proof” you the best and are likely
what will be on the shelves almost exclusively within a few years. So you can
take either fork in the wireless road. Buy low-cost 802.11b units now and
upgrade to a nice 802.11 a/b/g unit in a few years when costs have come
down and all the kinks are worked out. Or, buy one of the a/b/g units now and


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