Would you like to access the Internet, your printer and your other computers, including laptops, without stringing wires throughout your office or home? The solution is a wireless local area network (WLAN) and we'll tell you how easy it is to install one yourself at a nominal cost.
WLANs replace conventional wires with devices called wireless access points that plug into any electrical wall socket. WLAN hardware contains miniature transmitters and antennae that send and receive radio signals to and from your computers and other peripherals.
In order to determine how many access points you will need and where they should be placed, sketch the layout of your home or ofrice. Consumer-grade access points have an average effective indoor range of up to 150 feet, though thick concrete walls, metal wall studs and appliances can reduce that range. A small office may need just one access point, which can cost as little as $70. Powerful commercial devices, which provide coverage of extended areas, either indoor or outdoor, cost as much as several thousand dollars.
You also will need to install in each computer, printer and peripheral a wireless network interface card (NLC), which contains a transmitter and antenna to send and receive signals from an access point. Wireless NICs cost from $40 to several hundred dollars. A $40 model is adequate for a home or small office WLAN.
SELECT THE STANDARD
When you shop for wireless equipment, you will be asked which of three industry WLAN industry standards you plan to employ--802.11b, 802.11a or 802.11g. All wireless equipment uses one or more of these standard specifications. The 802.11b designation was the first to be deployed and is the most widely used. The "a" standard was introduced next but is not widely used because it isn't compatible with "b" devices. The "g" standard is the newest and the most versatile; it's compatible with both "a" and "b" (see
For our example, we will use equipment designed for the "g" standard, a Linksys Wireless Access Point Router, which costs about $70, and two Ethernet cables, costing about $5 each.
Configuring the WLAN takes no more than an hour or so. Follow along with us as we provide the steps.
The Linksys does multiple tasks. As a wireless access point it creates the connection to your network. Its four ports also let you connect wired devices. And as a router it allows the office network (wireless and wired) to share a high-speed cable or DSL Internet connection; a dial-up connection is not recommended because it is too slow.
Since the Linksys provides both wired and wireless local area network (LAN) access, you also can plug a desktop computer into it for a wired connection.
Even though our example is hardware-specific, the guidance we present can be followed with slight modifications when using other brands.
We will prepare laptop wireless equipment first.
Step I. Many new laptops come with a NIC already installed. If your laptop lacks it, you will need to install one by following the instructions provided by the vendor. Usually you can slide the credit-card-sized NIC into the laptop's PC-card slot. You'll also have to load the wireless software, which will be provided on a CD-ROM with the NIC, onto the laptop.
Step 2. Plug one end of the first Ethernet cable into the network port on the desktop PC. You usually can find the slot on the back of the computer (it looks like an oversize telephone jack).
Step 3. Plug the other end into any one of the four ports labeled LAN on the wireless access point router (see exhibit 1, at right). Nearly all new desktop computers have built-in network ports. If yours is more than a few years old and doesn't have them, you may need to install an Ethernet 10/100 NIC into one of the expansion slots.
Step 4. To allow multiple wired and wireless users to access your high-speed Internet connection simultaneously, plug one end of the second Ethernet cable into your DSL or cable modem and the other end into the Internet port on the access point router. …