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Wireless Systems

Wireless systems are one of the most popular technologies today. Unlike the other networking systems I've described so far, wireless systems require no cables at all. All you need is a wireless connection for each computer. There are two basic kinds of wireless in use today: Wireless Fidelity (WiFi, pronounced "WHY fie") and Bluetooth. I won't discuss the Bluetooth option because it's relatively expensive and doesn't really net the SOHO user anything of value. The best place to learn about Bluetooth is an article called "Technology and Implications," by Heidi Monson. When you want to get detailed information about Bluetooth, check out the official Bluetooth site.

Most WiFi wireless systems use 2.4 GHz as their transmission frequency. This frequency has the least chance of interfering with other devices in your office, although some interference will occur. For example, some people have complained that their wireless network produces a low-level hiss on their computer speakers; others complain about problems with other wireless computing devices.

CAUTION

Avoid systems that use a 900 MHz transmission frequency; many home devices (such as telephones) use this frequency range. Imagine having your telephone calls interrupted while working at the computer! A newer WiFi system uses 5 GHz as its transmission frequency, which is supposed to reduce interference problems even more.

Wireless systems vary greatly in features. However, any good wireless system will adhere to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 (also called WiFi) and IEEE 802.1Q standards. The first standard tells how a wireless system should work. The second standard describes how a virtual local area network (LAN) should operate. A wireless network needs to perform both tasks.

There are many forms of WiFi connection, so be sure you get matching components. The two most popular standards are 802.11b, which transfers data at 11 Mbps; and 802.11g, which transfers data at 54 Mbps. The higher transfer rate of 802.11g will cost more, so you need to decide how much speed you actually need for your home setup. Both of these systems transfer data using the 2.4 GHz transmission frequency. The newer 802.11a standard uses a 5 GHz transmission frequency and transfers data at 54 Mbps. The only reason to use a network that relies on this newer standard is to overcome interference problems with the older standards.

Make sure that any wireless components you get are WiFi Certified. This certification means that the product has met the requirements of the WiFi Alliance. The bottom line is that you get a product with assured interoperability, so you don't have to buy everything from one vendor.

The biggest reason to use a wireless network is that you don't have to rely on existing house wiring or run any new cable to create a connection. If your landlord will make a fuss about all of those new holes in his wall, a wireless network is a good way to avoid trouble. Wireless networks are also extremely portable. You can attach a wireless connection to a notebook or palmtop and walk around while you compute—all without losing your network connection.

You might wonder why I haven't discussed wireless solutions before now. My emphasis is on the SOHO environment, where price and privacy are both important. Wireless solutions can become quite expensive. The design of a typical house could also cause problems getting the wireless signal to reach every corner. Finally, unless you're very careful, your neighbors have full access to your network. Commercial organizations also have this problem—it's a source of a lot of complications even for professional installers and network administrators.

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