NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2010
Making Wireless Internet Faster
By Vinny La Bash, Regular Contributing Columnist,
the Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., Florida

vlabash(at)comcast.net (click to email author)

A wireless network works on the same principle as any other communications network. It is a collection of various devices connected to each other in a way that allows data to flow unimpeded, and unchanged from one device to another. The main difference is that in a wireless network, there is no physical connection between or among the different devices. The main advantage of a wireless network is portability within the range of the network. The main drawback is that the quality of the communications signal can vary greatly within the range of the network sometimes resulting in disruption of communications services.

Some Basics: For simplicity, our discussion will be restricted to internet based home wireless networks. There is no need to delve into the complications of corporate, military or other kinds of complex communications networks. The basic equipment required to set up a home network is:

* An internet service provider (ISP) that provides access to the internet.

* A modem that provides access to the ISP.

* A router that broadcasts the wireless signal.

* Devices such as laptops, desktops and printers that receive the signal through a network interface card (NIC).

There are several standards for wireless networks developed by the group that regulates the industry’s standards, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Amongst these standards are those that set criteria for data transmission speeds.

Don’t buy, or accept from your ISP, a wireless router before determining how fast it transmits data. Manufacturers are required to display the standard in their product specifications. Either get the information from your ISP or look for these specifications on the box.

Regardless of your experience level with wireless networks, don’t consider anything less than standard 802.11g. Most “g” devices are not only inexpensive, but far superior to the older 802.11 “a” or “b” wireless routers. Besides being competitively priced, “g” routers have far superior network security. 802.11b routers offer only Wired Equivalent Privacy security (WEP). 802.11g routers have Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), which overcomes the weaknesses of WEP.

How large are the files you upload and download from the internet? If you normally do not move large files in either direction standard 802.11g will do fine, and it has the additional advantage of being cheap. If you are moving large files, then go for a faster, Super G router.

The most common problem with home wireless networks is either loss of signal or a signal that is too weak to allow reliable connections. One way to solve this is by boosting the signal. If you’re willing to spend a few bucks you can plug a Hawking HAI15SC Hi-Gain Wireless Corner Antenna into your router and enhance signal strength from the standard 2dBi to up to 15dBi. Before you run out and buy this enhancement be sure that your router has a removable antenna. Check your router’s manual or contact the manufacturer for information.

If your router doesn’t have a removable antenna there is an alternate, but higher priced method to increase signal strength. A Wireless-G Range Expander also does the job. It has a great advantage that it does not have to be physically connected to any part of your network. All that’s necessary is that it be in range of the router. The device works similar to a “repeater” in cellular networks. It performs well in multi-story homes, back yards, lanais, and other outdoor venues.

The Expander is compatible with the Linksys WAP54G Access Point, and both the WRT54G and WRT54GS Wireless Routers. It also works with Wireless-G and Wireless-B clients.

Everyone who uses or who is contemplating using a wireless network is rightly concerned with performance. But don’t let performance issues blind you to proper security. The fastest wireless network on the planet won’t do you much good if a hacker is robbing you at the speed of light.

Wireless networks have become very common for individuals and organizations. A new PC is very likely to have wireless access pre-installed. Hackers have become adept at breaking into wireless networks, and you should not overlook this danger while enhancing performance.

At a minimum you should change any default passwords and select a method that will securely encrypt your data should your protection methods be compromised. Your local PC user group is a great resource for giving you this kind of assistance. Don’t overlook this abundant source of expertise

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