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Wireless Networks

Wireless networks use microwave technology to enable cable free connections to existing networks. Each device on a wireless network has a wireless adapter and uses this to connect to wireless access points or routers which are connected to a traditional wired network.

Indoor wireless networks use 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz frequencies which don't require a license to operate and use a number of protocols to achieve a range of speeds and coverage for each network. Typical technologies employed include 802.11a, b, g and n which give a range of theoretical speeds from 1Mb/s up to 300Mb/s. Typical deployments include wifi hotspots in hotel and public areas, home networking, and wireless networks in offices and campuses.

The popularity of wireless LANs is a testament primarily to their convenience, cost efficiency, and ease of integration with other networks and network components. The majority of laptop computers sold to consumers today come pre-equipped with all necessary wireless LAN technology.

However, wireless LAN technology can have its share of downfalls. For a given networking situation, wireless LANs may not be desirable for a number of reasons, mainly to do with the inherent limitations of the technology.

Benefits


Convenience

- allow users to access network resources from nearly any convenient location within the home or office (particularly relevant with the increasing use of laptops).

Mobility

- public wireless networks allow users to access the internet outside their normal work environment. Many fast food restaurants and chain coffee shops, for example, offer wireless internet connections at little or no cost.

Productivity

- wireless users can maintain a connection with their desired network on the move. This allows productivity from any convenient location in a hospital or warehouse for example.

Deployment

- initial setup requires little more than a single access point. Wired networks would have the additional cost and complexity of actual physical cables being run to numerous locations.

Expandability

- additional users can be served with the existing equipment. In a wired network, additional clients would require additional wiring.

Cost

- wireless hardware incurs only a modest price increase over wired counterparts. This is more than outweighed by the savings in not running physical cables.

Disadvantages


Security

- unprotected wireless networks are susceptible to nearby computers 'piggybacking' the signal for free internet access, or even hacking information from your system. On a wired network, an outside person would first have to physicaly tap into the actual wires, but this is not an issue with wireless packets. To combat this consideration, wireless networks utilize various encryption technologies available such as Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA).

Range

- the typical range of a common 802.11g network is 10-15m. While sufficient for a typical home, it will be insufficient in a larger structure which will require repeaters, booster antennae or additional access points. Newer 802.11n equipment attempts to address this issue with increased signal strength at long range.

Reliability

- like any radio frequency transmission, wireless networking signals are subject to a wide variety of interferences that are beyond the control of the network administrator. These include microwave ovens and analogue wireless transmitters such as baby monitors and TV extenders. As a result, important network resources such as servers are rarely connected wirelessly.

Speed

- the speed on most wireless networks (typically 1-108 Mbit/s) is reasonably slow compared to the slowest common wired networks (100 Mbit/s up to several Gbit/s). For most users, however, this is irrelevant since the speed bottleneck is not in the wireless routing but rather in the outside network connectivity itself. In most environments, a wireless network running at its slowest speed is still faster than the internet connection serving it in the first place. However, in client-server environments, the higher throughput of a wired network would be more appropriate.

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