When using the latest technology, wireless networks run at a pretty fast clip. They
start at 11 Mbps (more than adequate for home use), and many variants go up to
54 Mbps. However, different factors in your home may limit the wireless network's
speed or functionality. For example, an appliance may be the source of electrical
interference, or something in the walls might limit the signal strength between rooms
or floors. Make sure that you can return or exchange the equipment if it doesn't work
properly in your home.
Three basic wireless standards are in wide use: 802.11b, 802.11a, and 802.11g. It's
counterintuitive, but in this particular case, 802.11a is a more advanced and faster
standard than 802.11b. 802.11g is essentially an upgrade to 802.11b and uses the same
frequencies to transmit data.
The 802.11g standard is presently leading the market, and many good and relatively
inexpensive solutions use this standard. You can even purchase units that combine
an 802.11g wireless access point (WAP), which is sort of like a wireless hub, with a
router intended to share a home's high-bandwidth Internet connection among multiple
computers. The nice thing about such combination units is that you don't need to pay
more for Internet service for multiple computers, since the router makes it appear as if
only one computer were on the connection.
A new wireless Ethernet standard called 802.11n is starting to emerge. It promises higher
speeds and potentially better range than the existing standards. This is still a draft standard,
expected to be finalized around the end of 2009. Products that use the draft standard are currently
available, but if there are changes to the draft 802.11n standard in its final release, these products
may not work properly with devices based on the final version.
Wireless Network Caveats
Before you install a wireless network, you should be aware of the following:
The predominant standards operate at different data speeds. 802.11b operates
at 11 Mbps; 802.11g and 802.11a both operate at up to 54 Mbps.
The particulars of the home and other installed equipment may interfere
with a wireless network. This is most pronounced with 802.11b and 802.11g,
which operate at 2.4 GHz--the same frequency as many portable telephones
and also near the frequency where microwave ovens operate. For example,
when I set up an 802.11b network at my home several years ago, I kept getting
dropped connections, and I couldn't use my portable phone anywhere near the
wireless network connections because it caused audible interference. 802.11a
operates at 5 GHz, which may be less subject to interference in a home that has
interference in the 802.11b/g frequency.