Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Fundamentals of Computing - Lesson 6 - The Difference Between Cabled Networks and WiFi

One very important aspect of using your computer is also the ability to connect with others. Both at your workplace, where you and your colleagues are connected on a network, but also at home where you are connected to the internet through a router. In this lesson we will look at both cabled and WiFi networks, so you may understand what this is all about.

While at home we don't think about networks, but that doesn't mean you are not using a network. Your computer needs and IP-address, and that is handled by your router. A router is generally a small black or white box with green lights either fixed or flashing. It is a small unit that keeps track of what units are connected to it, and offers IP-addresses according to a pre-defined set of numbers.

Most often you will find information from your Internet Service Provider on how to access your router. Most people don't think much about this, but maybe you should. Now that more and more people are getting WiFi-networks in their homes, there could be some performance improvement to be collected by taking a good look at it. I will tell you more about that below.

First: Cabled Networks
A cabled network is most often used at your workplace. You will see small connectors in the wall, and a cable running towards your computer. The reliability of such networks is at the top of the scale, and often takes out many of the considerations you would have in using WiFi-networks. When you turn on your computer, it will connect to a server, and your password will be matched with a user database, allowing you access to colleagues' pcs once you are authenticated.

Such a network will often deny access to private computers, and therefore you should - quite obviously - have a USB-dongle in your pc if you want to use this at your workplace. Depending on the IT politics at your workplace, private documents should be stored on a USB memory stick when you want to bring these back at your workplace.

NOTICE: You should always study the IT politics at a workplace before ever taking anything out of a company network. Even though it might be obvious that you might as well work on a document while in the train or in a bus back from work, it should be permissible before doing so.

Cabled networks run at either 10, 100 or 1000mbps - nowadays, 100 megabit would be the most typical, but there could be older companies running slower networks.

Secondly: WiFi-Networks
On WiFi networks no cables are involved. When you turn on your computer, you will be logging on to the WiFi network using a similar authentication, but this time there are several important aspects involved. One of them being a loss of data due to transmission authentication in a different manner.

Often the data performance lost is referred to as 'overhead'. You are losing a bit of the maximum speed due to data packets being sent back and forth in a more random way. Furthermore, you should be aware that WiFi networks may be identified by users you don't want to access your network, and this is where I would like to recommend a free tool called Acrylic WiFi Home.

With this at hand you can see how well your WiFi network performs, and it may graphically suggest changes to your existing network depending on channels that are already busy due to your neighbors' networks, and - most importantly - will help you decide on WPS.

WPS is the system whereby you can press a contact on your router, and then manually add your WiFi unit to the network. This is highly insecure compared with a real logon - which may be authomatic when you tell your unit that it should connect automatically - and I would suggest removing WPS since you very probably won't have any units that need to logon through WPS.

WiFi networks typically run at approx 50 megabit, but are able to run at up to 150 megabits in many modern routers. Everything depends on what you are willing to pay, and how fast your internet service provider is.

What to Choose?
It may very well be best to run through WiFi. You can take your tablet into the bedroom, or make changes in your documents without having to worry about cables being long enough when you move your computer. However, identifying data intensive activities - and reasonable security issues - should also be considered when you want to set up your network.

Today, I want to share a video that shows the difference in a more graphic way. Please pardon that it advertises for FiOS. I don't get any revenue from any of the videos I share. I only do so as a matter of service to help everyone understand.


In the next lesson we will look at choosing software for your computing needs.

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