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How to Build a Wireless Home Network - Tutorial

Wireless terms and jargon


WLAN Wireless Router Configuration

WLAN Layout with Wireless Router

When researching wireless equipment to buy, or talking about wireless networking with friends and family, you should have a solid understanding of this basic terminology.

What is a WLAN?

We've already said that a WLAN is a "typical" wireless home network. That's because a WLAN is a wireless LAN, and a LAN is a related group of networked computers situated in close physical proximity to each other. LANs can be found in many homes, schools, and businesses. Though it's technically possible to have more than one LAN in your home, few do this in practice. In this tutorial, we explain how to build a single standard WLAN for your home.

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is an industry name used to market wireless networking products. You'll find a black-and-white Wi-Fi logo or certification emblem on virtually any new wireless equipment you buy. Technically speaking, Wi-Fi signifies conformance to the 802.11 family of wireless communication standards (described below). But because all mainstream wireless home network gear uses the 802.11 standards today, basically the term "Wi-Fi" merely distinguishes wireless equipment from other network gear.

What is 802.11a/802.11b/802.11g?

802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g represent three popular wireless communication standards. Wireless networks can be built using any of the three, but 802.11a is less compatible with the others and tends to be a more expensive option implemented only by larger businesses. Use the supplemental article below to help you pick 802.11 standard(s) for your wireless LAN.

What are WEP, WPA and Wardriving?

The security of wireless home and small business networks remains a concern for many. Just like we use radio or television receivers to tune into station broadcasts, it's almost as easy to pick up signals from a nearby wireless home network. Sure, credit card transactions on the Web may be secure, but imagine your neighbors spying on every email and instant message you send!

A few years ago, some techies popularized the practice of wardriving to raise awareness of this vulnerability in WLANs. With the help of cheap, home-made equipment, "wardrivers" walked or motored through neighborhoods snooping the wireless network traffic emanating from nearby homes. Some wardrivers even logged their computers onto unsuspecting people's home WLANs, essentially stealing free computer resources and Internet access.

WEP was an important feature of wireless networks designed to improve their security. WEP scrambles (technically speaking, encrypts) network traffic mathematically so that other computers can understand it, but humans cannot read it. WEP technology became obsolete some years back and has been replaced with WPA and other security options. WPA helps protect your WLAN from wardrivers and nosy neighbors, and today, all popular wireless equipment supports it. Because WPA is a feature that can be turned "on" or "off," you'll simply need to ensure it is configured properly when setting up your network.

Next - Types of Wireless Equipment

The five types of equipment found in wireless home networks are:
  • wireless network adapters
  • wireless access points
  • wireless routers
  • add-on wireless antennas
  • wireless signal boosters
Some of this equipment is optional depending on your home network configuration. Let's examine each piece in turn.

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