The most important step in building a wireless network is selecting the right components. Before you set out for the electronics store in search of the parts and pieces you need, you may want to review my previous articles about planning your network and what standards there are to choose from.
Typically, you are only searching for three types of equipment if you establishing a wireless network for you personal computers to share files, share devices (such as a printer) and establish a connection between your home or office and the outside world (Internet access). You may need several of one or more of these but your selection really comes down to deciding upon these three things.
Network Interface Adapter
The protocol (simply the language standard of a communication method) used in connectivity between computers and printers on a network in your home or at your office is known as Ethernet. What is confusing is that this is the language standard but it is not method by which the components communicate. Therefore, there must be some intermediary device that can translate these internal component communications and the Ethernet protocol. These devices are known simply as a network interface adapter. You probably know this by another name. Commonly referred to as a network interface card (NIC) this device is installed in or to your computer and provides the connectivity to the Ethernet network. A desktop PC’s NIC is usually a card that is installed inside the case and inserted into one of the slots on your system’s motherboard. More and more, this functionality is being built into the mother board of desktop PCs and is usually an integral component on portable PCs.
A wireless access point, also known as a base station, is a device that provides a translation and handles protocol conversion from the wired side of your inbound Internet connection (usually a DSL or Cable Modem) and the wireless side of your network. This is a must in order to create a wireless network.
Sometimes, the access point may be an installed component of a DSL or Cable modem and/or router putting all of these components in one, easy to install and manage device. Having these components bundled can provide a better value as it will be more cost effective when combined with functions of other components that you have decided to include in your wireless network:
Hub or Switch – A hub is device that provides a physical connection for wired pc’s in a network. A switch is sometimes referred to as an intelligent hub that adds traffic management capability.
Router – A device that allows multiple computers to share a single Internet connection. As mentioned, some routers can include built-in a broadband modem and wireless access in one device
Wireless Network Interface Adapter
This device is similar to a NIC but provides wireless functionality. More and more computers are being built with this device already included as the popularity of wireless networks continue to grow.