Wireless Broadband, Wireless Networking, Wi-Fi, what’s what?

Published 02/05/2006 10:06   |    Updated 20/05/2008 09:43

Wireless Broadband, Wireless Networking, Wi-Fi, what’s what?

When you hear broadband providers or your colleagues and friends talking about "wireless" they could actually be talking about two separate things:

Wireless Networking, having a wire free computer in the house connected to a broadband connection.


Wireless Broadband, this is a special kind of broadband package where you can use it at home, but also in certain places when you are away from home.


Let's take a look at each in turn.


Wireless Networking

Wireless networking is basically a way of linking all the computers at home together and letting them share an Internet connection without the need to trail wires all over your house. Wireless Networks are also known as "Wi-Fi" networks.



Why should I be interested?

If the only place in the house that you use the Internet is on a desktop computer which is located next to a phone socket then you probably shouldn't be interested in wireless networking. Everyone else should be!


The typical family nowadays has more than one computer; some will be desktops and some laptops. Wireless networking makes it easy for all these computers to share your BT broadband connection.


Also there are other devices that can use a wireless connection that you might not have realised such as games consoles, iPod Touch and some mobile phones.



Is it secure?

Yes it's very secure, if you set a password for your wireless network that only the computers on your network know. This stops other computers from connecting to the network and getting access. There are two types of security for wireless networks; WiFi Protected Access (WPA) and Wired Equipment Privacy (WEP). Of these WPA is the newer and more robust.


BT would recommend that you choose wireless equipment that can use WPA. If you don't password protect your network you may find that people with computers close to your house can connect to your broadband connection wirelessly.


This can lead to you paying for bandwidth that they use, or even to the more serious issue of them downloading illegal content that could be associated with your connection! All this is easily solved by simply implementing the security we described.



What extra equipment will I need?

You will need a wireless ADSL modem router, such as the BT Voyager 2110 wireless router. This is the device that you will plug into your phone line and will provide both the backbone of your wireless network and the connection to the Internet. The BT Voyager 2110 wireless router is pre-configured with WEP encryption; it can also be changed to use the more robust WPA encryption.


Every computer or device that you wish to be able to connect to your wireless network will need a wireless network card. Most new laptops will have a built in wireless network card. Any computer or device without a wireless network card or USB adapter will need one installed.



How does a wireless network work?

The broadband connection comes in on your telephone line and is accessed by the wireless router. The router then turns the Internet connection wireless so that the computers in the house with wireless network cards can access the broadband connection.


A computer without a wireless card can still connect to the Internet by plugging directly into the router using an Ethernet cable. It really is as simple as that!


A wireless network gives everyone the freedom to use the Internet as and when they need. No more arguments over who gets to use the connection and when!



Are there any potential downsides?

The wireless network has a range, and this range is affected by obstacles such as thick walls. This won’t be noticed in most houses, but if you live in a large house or an old house with very thick walls you may find that you have dead spots in the house.


The best way of solving this is to experiment with where you place your wireless router, the higher up in the house and more centrally located the better it will be, you can also try buying larger aerials for your router as these will also boost it's range. If you still have dead spots you can install more wireless access points. These act as bridges between the router and the dead zones.


Wireless access can be slightly slower than wired access, however it is barely noticeable at all, you are only likely to notice if you play fast paced action games. The vast majority of people will not notice either a problem with dead spots or with speed.



Are there any health implications?

Some people may be concerned about the health implications of a wireless network, and there have been occasions for the safety of wireless to be questioned in the press. These have so far been found to be baseless and the consensus in the scientific and engineering community is that wireless broadband is perfectly safe.



Wireless Broadband

Wireless broadband in its latest sense is where mobile phone providers give you access to the Internet using a 3G broadband modem attached to your computer.



What is a Wi-Fi hotspot?

A "hotspot" is very simply just a public area that has a wireless network like the one you have at home. The only difference is that it is usually setup to give access to certain subscribers. BT Openzone is a wireless broadband (Wi-Fi) service that you can access in public places (hotspots). You can get online at BT Openzone hotspots throughout the UK and Ireland, and at selected locations abroad.



How common are Wi-Fi hotspots?

There are lots of hotspots all over the country, as you'd imagine they are more common in cities and at locations where large numbers of people are likely to be; places like airports, train stations, motorway service stations, hotels and even pubs.


If you are regularly on the move, need Internet access and are in areas with hotspots then it can be worth it both financially and for convenience. However most hotspots will let you subscribe for short periods (such as an hour) so if it's rare that you need to use them then just connecting to them on a pay-as-you-go basis will probably work out to be more convenient.



And finally…

Wireless broadband is quite simply broadband without wires.


Remember that any broadband connection can be made wireless by setting up a wireless network.


Don't forget to secure your wireless broadband, to keep yourself safe from prying eyes.



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