As a full-time magazine and book writer, I’m at the computer all the time: writing and researching on the Internet. I have a desktop and a laptop, cable and modem connections, so when I’m sitting in my office chair, I access the Internet at high speed by cable. When I’m relaxing in my recliner or in bed with the laptop, I use the modem connection. The only problem (Problem One) is my laptop Internet connection needs a phone connection, so I have to (a) plug into a phone jack behind the bed/chair or (b) use a remote connection that sends a wireless signal from phone line to computer. I’ve been using one of those Panasonic Data Links which sends a signal a couple of hundred feet so I can hook up to the phone without wires. The only problems are (Problem Two) the Data Link has too be recharged too often and (Problem Three) I have to use the 56K modem connection – too slow for my needs when I’m checking and downloading hundreds of web sites on medication (the subject of a book I’m currently writing) and other subjects for other books. You can see the problems.
The answer they told me was a wireless router that takes the cable connection and transmits is up to 300-feet indoors, up to 1800-feet outdoors. It’s not even 300-feet from one end of my apartment to the other, so I’d be covered. As you exceed these ranges, the network will scale down its operating speed and reception will degrade as well.
If you’re planning to put together a computer network in your home or small office, you should consider going wireless. With wireless you get the freedom to roam just about anywhere in the building and you don’t have to deal with cumbersome cables. If you’re rich and have a dozen computers scattered around the house, you can link them all into one Internet connection and eliminate cables in the walls and other alternatives. If you’re not rich like me, you can justify the cost even with two computers if high speed access and no wires to trip over is your goal.
What you’ll need is a wireless cable/dsl router, and a network card for the second (or third, fourth, fifth, etc.) computer(s). I got all my stuff from Belkin ( http://www.belkin.com ) because I’ve used their electronic stuff before and never had a problem and the price has always been right. The router will allow you to share your broadband Internet connection with all the computers in your network. You can connect to any cable or DSL modem that has an Ethernet port, and if you’ve already got a wire-based network installed, you can use the router’s integrated 3-port 10/100 Base-Tx Ethernet switch to add wireless access to your existing network.
If you’re using a notebook computer like I am, you’ll probably want to go with the Wireless Notebook Network Card. This is a PCMCIA card that plugs in and doesn’t require you to lug around an external hardware box, like with the USB Adapter. And for desktop PC users who want to go the traditional route, Belkin provides the Wireless Desktop PCI Network Adapter. It doesn’t make much sense to use this device though, unless your PC doesn’t have a USB port and if you’re system is that old, however, you’ll probably need to upgrade it anyway. Somewhere down the line you’re going to discover that other accessories are going to require a computer with a little more capabilities.
Connecting your computers to the wireless network is extremely easy and can be done in a variety of ways using the USB, Notebook Card, and Desktop PCI adapters. It doesn’t get any easier than the Wireless USB Network Adapter. Just plug it into an available USB port, and let Windows Plug-and-Play do its thing. There’s no need to open your PC for hardware installation, and you can connect/disconnect your computer from the network quickly and easily. Finally, if you find that you need to cover a particularly large access area, you can use the Wireless Network Access Point to expand your coverage. Normally, with the wireless network running at 11Mbps, you’ll get coverage over an indoor area of up to 300 feet in radius and over an outdoor area of up to 1,800 feet in radius. You can boost the operating range of the network by using the Access Point as a central point of communication. Locate the Access Point in the center of your network operating area and it will relay the data from one computer to another thus boosting your operating range. Depending on conditions, you can effectively double your network access area.
So far, I’ve tested the hookup at home (that under 300-foot end-to-end apartment I mentioned) and at the office and have had great performance. In the small office, you can keep the cable clutter to a minimum, and save money on equipment by sharing a printer among all the networked PCs. At home, I could roam around to any room (I have two) with my laptop and still have access to all my computer data, including being able to call up information from the bedroom. Last week, I took the laptop outside and did some work from a park bench/table across the street and as long as I stayed within a thousand feet or so from the apartment, I was connected. If you’re tripping over wires, settling for a slow speed modem connection when you’re away from your main desktop or using your laptop in another room, there are solutions and they’re not only convenient, but they’re affordable as well.
Tip: when you’re thinking about buying a computer product and need some how-to installation and tech information, go to the company’s website and download the manual. You’ll find all kinds of information in there that could help you to decide to buy or not…and it’s free! Belkin’s is at http://web.belkin.com/support/download/download.asp
Phil Philcox is the Editor/Director of The Press Association and a contributor to hundreds of magazines and newspapers. He’s the author of four books on computers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .