Wireless networking at home

Wireless networking allows you to access the web anywhere in the home.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:7 May 2009
 

01 .Roam free

Woman with laptop

It would be hard to imagine a world without the internet. Now, with only a few clicks of the mouse you can book a show, download music, pay bills and search for hours on the most trivial subjects imaginable.

However, until recently you would have been confined to one room in the house, usually the study or living room, by your physical phone or cable connection.

Wireless networking changes the way the internet is used, allowing access to the web anywhere in the home.

Please note: this information was current as of May 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology that allows your laptop, internet radio or other wireless product to connect to a network in your home at data transfer speeds fast enough for you to enjoy music and video downloaded from the internet.

There are several versions of Wi-Fi, and any devices you have, such as an iTouch or wireless MP3, will indicate its transfer speed as either 802.11a, b, g or n – this is usually specified on the product box.

  • The first version, 802.11a, is fairly slow and is generally no longer available.
  • Version 802.11b communicates at speeds that allow you to browse the web without too much trouble, while version g provides faster speeds for such things as listening to internet radio and downloading video.

When looking for your next wireless device, make sure it supports at least 802.11g. The recently introduced 802.11n standard supports even faster speeds and a wider range than 802.11g, so if you are having trouble getting a wireless connection in some areas of your house, using 802.11n wireless devices might help.

What about Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that has been around on mobile phones for several years. However, until recently wireless headsets were the only other devices widely available. Now there are many more for use in the home, including stereo headphones, wireless keyboards and controllers for games consoles, such as Nintendo Wii.

Bluetooth works well with a Wi-Fi network and should not cause any interference as most Bluetooth devices only operate within a small area of 10m or less.

 
 

Sign up to our free
e-Newsletter

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

 

02.Wireless router and security

 

A wireless router converts your data into a wireless broadcast and distributes it throughout your home. This data can originate from the internet via your modem or from your personal computer. The wireless distribution of data is similar to a cordless phone base station sending the phone signal out wirelessly to the handset.

The router may include Ethernet ports at the back, allowing a local area network (LAN) connection for your desktop computer or any device that can easily be connected via a cable.

If you can’t get a fast internet connection at home via cable, a broadband wireless connection from a telco such as Optus or Telstra provides wireless internet access in one box – all you need is a power point for the wireless box and any Wi-Fi device in your house can access the internet. The advantage of this solution over a wired broadband plan is ease of setup, which can be useful if you’re renting. However, it’s not as fast or as stable as most wired broadband connections, and wireless broadband pricing plans are generally more expensive.

The wireless range

The wireless range depends on a number of factors, including the type of house you live in (brick or weatherboard), although under normal circumstances you can expect a range of about 30m. However, it is possible to send out a wireless signal up to 100m, which means your internet connection may not necessarily end at your property boundary. Placing the wireless router in the middle of the home will provide the best coverage throughout the property.

The quality of your wireless connection may be affected by other appliances, such as a microwave oven and vacuum cleaner, causing interruptions to the radio frequency that carry the network signal. Cordless phones operating on the 2.4GHz band can also cause problems, although most new digital cordless phones operate on their own 1.8GHz band and are less of a problem.

In some residential areas, wireless networking is becoming so popular there is evidence of significant crowding of the bandwidth. The Wi-Fi standards 802.11b and g operate on the 2.4GHz band, while the latest 802.11n operates on the less crowded 5GHz band.

Keeping your Wi-Fi network secure

Getting a wireless network up and running in your home is one of the easier technology tasks to perform. Unfortunately, however, this plug-and-play setup also makes it easy for unwanted guests to either use your bandwidth or, worse, get into your computer system.

When you’re shopping for a wireless router, don’t be confused if you see a similar-looking “wireless access point” – these may not provide the same level of security. Wireless routers most likely provide additional security measures, such as firewall protection and stronger encryption, to help keep unwanted intruders from accessing your home network.

Some PC users might ask why a firewall is needed when the computer operating system usually has some sort of protection. However, firewall security at the router level helps keep people from even seeing that you have a computer. Imagine the router security measures as putting a fence around your house and the firewall on your computer as the security lock on your front door.

Wireless routers normally offer one of several security standards, including WEP, WPA and WPA2. WEP is the least secure of the three and WPA2 the most secure.

Your password

You should first change the default password and administrator login name when setting up your wireless router. Depending on the router, the passwords can be as simple as “password” or “1234” and the user name “admin” or “user”. The default security names could also be the name of the product, such as NETGEAR or Linksys, and potential freeloaders or hackers know only too well the series of default passwords and user names to try when searching for unsecured Wi-Fi connections. Follow the instructions carefully when setting up your wireless network and creating your own user name and password, and you should avoid any complicated adjustments later.

Wi-Fi protected setup

Without encryption, your wireless signals can be picked up by other wireless devices, which means others could use your internet bandwidth or intercept data sent through the network. This may lead to a nasty shock when you receive your next credit card bill. To make things simpler, a security feature that some devices and routers are beginning to support is Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). If both your router and wireless devices have WPS you won’t need to worry about setting up passwords – simply press a button on the router and device and they should identify each other automatically.

Outside your home, wireless access points in cafés and large shopping centres often provide free access to the internet, often allowing you to automatically connect your Wi-Fi laptop computer, mobile phone or wireless device to the internet. But while this is a great convenience, you might be providing an easy opportunity for unscrupulous hackers to take advantage – so before you decide to do all your online banking down at the local café, think about what information you are sending out into the public domain.

Most laptop computers have some sort of wireless connectivity, usually 802.11b or g. However, if you have an older laptop without this feature you can buy either a wireless PC card for about $100 or a USB wireless adapter. Once you have your wireless router connected to the internet, your home is transformed into a wireless hub for a wide variety of devices.

The following are examples of wireless activity that can be performed throughout different rooms without turning on a PC, as the house is constantly connected to the web through your wireless router.

  • Bedroom The Logitech Squeezebox Boom turns on at a set time and plays your favourite internet radio station, and also allows you to listen to your music stored somewhere in the house on a network-attached storage device (NAS), which is essentially a hard drive connected to your home network. Before heading into the ensuite, you can quickly check your iPod Touch or iPhone to check the weather and any emails that have come through overnight.
  • Lounge room The latest YouTube video can be streamed wirelessly to your TV via a media player. Some of the latest TVs even allow you to send HD video wirelessly from a Blu-ray player or PVR to the TV mounted on a wall, meaning no AV cable clutter. Meanwhile, the kids can play games on the Nintendo Wii console. Its wireless controllers use Bluetooth technology, while the Sony PS3 uses Wi-Fi connectivity to help bring online games to life.
  • Backyard Do your banking online or make that final bid on eBay while watching the kids play in the backyard. Most laptops support Wi-Fi and the latest models support the faster 802.11n protocol. Some wireless routers feature USB ports for connecting devices such as a printer or hard drive, allowing you to share the device and print a document from either a desktop PC connected via Ethernet or wirelessly from your laptop.

Dictionary

  • Wi-Fi sounds like an abbreviated word to describe wireless fidelity, however it is in fact just an invented word meaning nothing in particular. The wireless alliance decided to use the term as it sounded a lot catchier than IEEE802.11a.
  • ADSL Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line – a technology for transmitting compressed digital video and audio over regular (twisted pair) telephone lines with the use of special modems.
  • Ethernet Networking using special cabling (usually Cat5 or Cat6) to connect two or more computers.
  • Firewall A software program and/or hardware device that limits outside network access to a computer or local network by blocking or restricting access to your computer.
  • IP address The number uniquely identifying a node or device on a network using Internet Protocol (IP).
  • SSID Service Set IDentifier, also known as the network name as this is the name a user sees when trying to connect to a network.