I have helped a number of home users with their computing needs, and I think it might be time to share some basic ideas with home users about home networking. There are a number of factors that have contributed to the need for more complex computer setups at home, among them are broadband Internet access and the need for more computers in multiple-child households. In this article, I will attempt to introduce novice and intermediate computer users to home networking concepts with future posts relating to specific how-to articles on these technologies. You can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version.
First, let’s talk about what a network really is. A network is any group of devices that are connected together, like the digram on the right. In most cases today, networks are connected with wires through something called a hub or switch. The whole idea of networking is to allow the connected devices to share their resources with one another. These resources might include things like files on their hard drive, printers to which they are connected, access to the Internet, or perhaps even access to some program that is running on one of the devices.
One of the main reasons people set up a network in their homes is to allow more than one computer to connect to their broadband Internet connection simultaneously. In order to accomplish this a router of some sort is needed. Think of a router like an old fashioned traffic cop – they look at the information on the network and decide how to send it along where it needs to go based on the signal that is contained in the information. A lot of home networks use something in Windows called Internet Connection Sharing, which turns one computer on your network into a router for the others. Other home networks, like the one in the diagram to the left, use one of the multitude of commercial router appliances that are available on the market today from manufacturers like Linksys, DLink, and Netgear.
Finally, some home computer networks also use wireless networking to allow them to connect. Typically, this wireless networking will be based on a standard called WiFi. This general term really refers to a group of standards for wireless networking that were created by the IEEE, 802.11. The most common form of WiFi connection is 802.11b, which uses the 2.4ghz wireless spectrum and maximizes the speed for network traffic at 11mbps.
I know that last part introduced a couple of acronyms and words we haven’t discussed, so I will try and explain them a little more here:
- The IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. It is a standards body that writes standards for a lot of the technology used in the computer world so that devices from different manufacturers will work together.
- 802.11 is the standard number for wireless networking. The IEEE uses numbers to refer to the standards it writes. For instance, the standard for Ethernet, an almost universal form of wired networking that is used in most homs is number 802.3.
- 2.4ghz is a portion of the radio spectrum that is used by a lot of home wireless devices, including many cordless telephones and 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networking devices.
- And finally, 11mbps means 11 megabits per second, which refers to the speed of the network. For comparison purposes, a typical wired computer network allows for 100mbps, and some today are even allowing 1000mbps, which is also referred to as 1 gigabit per second.
We have discussed here some basic ideas of how a home network can be set up. In the next article in this series, we will discuss a number of different Internet connection methods, including DSL and Cable, along with some specifics around how to share one of these connections between computers.