Friday, April 22, 2011

Wired or wireless?

Pulling cyberspace into the home can be a daunting experience for those not familiar with terms such as 801, 12a, b, g and n Wi-Fi; Cat-5 Ethernet cables and Gigabit routers. For the average Montrealer just wanting to set up a simple home network, it can all be a bit overwhelming.

Fortunately, the debate over wired versus wireless home networks is easy to resolve. Deciding which option to choose is "really all about choice and how a family uses their Internet," said Chris Fudge, HP Canada's vice-president of consumer business. "Both options have benefits and drawbacks, so the choice really comes down to personal preferences and factors like installation, cost, reliability, performance needs and security."

Let's talk tech: A wired network uses Cat-5 cables to physically link computers, a broadband modem (for connecting to the Web), a router, and perhaps Internet-capable TVs, game consoles and Internet radios (audio devices that tune to Web-based radio stations). In contrast, a wireless network uses radio waves to link these devices. Each device transmits and receives signals over the air. This is why setting a password on the wireless router -the electronic gatekeeper that manages and controls the network -is a must. A password keeps out intruders, just as a front-door lock keeps out burglars.

Because a wired network uses physical cabling that is immune to wireless hackers, it is more secure than wireless. Wired networks also move data much faster than wireless networks can, are more stable and have more carrying capacity. These capabilities matter if you want to stream high-definition movies from your home computer to your HDTV set, said Ted Kritsonis, spokesman for online retailer"Unless your wireless-connected TV is really close to your wireless router, the signals can experience dropout," he said. "This makes your video stop and start, an effect known as stuttering."

Given that wired networks are operationally superior to wireless networks, why would anyone want to go wireless? One reason is mobility: "With a wireless network,

you can move around the house with your laptop and stay connected," said Darryl Rosenfeldt, director of Future Shop's ConnectPro installation services division. "A wired network forces you to stay wherever the Cat-5 cable connections are."

Wireless networks are also easy to add new devices to. With a wired network, you have to literally run a new cable from the router to the new device. This means either having cables running along the floor, or opening up the walls and building them in. In contrast, adding a new wireless device is easy: Just turn it on, connect to the wireless router, enter in the password, and presto: You're on the home network!

On the negative side, wireless networks are prone to performance issues due to radio interference. Warning: The more people who use wireless in your neighbourhood, the more likely your network performance will slow down due to interfering signals. In some areas of North America, the airwaves are becoming so congested that wireless networking isn't practical. Add the fact that some wireless networks run on the same radio bands as baby monitors and cordless phones, and the chances for interference are very real.

Often it makes sense to establish a combined wired/wireless network at home. Wireless routers typically offer a few Cat-5 connection ports, for connecting to a broadband modem for Web access and computers close by. To get the best of both worlds, cable-connect a computer and printer into the Cat-5 ports -and your Internet-capable TV/game console if possible -and then cover the rest of your home with wireless. You'll get fast, reliable performance and wireless mobility at the same time.

Still confused? Then hire a knowledgeable installer. There are many hard-to-fix quirky things that can go wrong when setting up a home network. The pros have pretty much seen it all, and know how to get things working fast.

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some helpful Networking hints:

Write a list of what you want your network to do -and where you want to be able to use it. If you can get away with going wired, do. It is faster, more secure and cheaper to install -unless you have to open up the walls.

Make sure your network cables are not crimped, punctured by staples, or crushed by doors and furniture. Damage can lead to network failure.

If you do choose wireless, buy an 801.12n router: it's fastest. As well, buy a dual-band router; it uses two different radio channels, so if one has interference problems, data will get through on the other.

Security is an absolute must. You must put a password on your wireless network, to keep hackers from using your bandwidth, stealing your data and potentially infecting your computers.

When choosing a password, make up a sentence with numbers in it, and then using the first letter of each word as your password. For instance: "My cat had 6 spotted kittens" becomes 'Mch6sk'. This makes your password both tough to break yet easy for you to remember.

When buying networking equipment, buy quality. Paying the extra money is worth it for reliability and performance.

If all the network technical terms befuddle you, talk to an expert and get his/her help. Guessing can lead to heartbreak when it comes to home networking.

James Careless

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