What is a Wireless Home Network?

Darlene Goodman

A wireless home network is typically a system that allows personal computers to communicate with one another and, often, with the Internet. These systems are unique among home networking hardware because they use radio waves to transmit signals from computer to computer, as opposed to some networks that use cables. Also, they are usually simple to install. High demand and improvements in technology have made this type of network affordable for many people.

Wireless networks allow computers to connect to the Internet without an Ethernet cable.
Wireless networks allow computers to connect to the Internet without an Ethernet cable.

Many individuals install computer networks, also called Local Area Networks (LANs), in their homes to allow computers to communicate with one another, as well as with printers, scanners, and other technology. These LANs often allow multiple computers to access a single Internet connection. Some networks combine both wireless and wired networking, depending on the capabilities of the computers, printers, and other hardware on the network.

Wireless router.
Wireless router.

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Wireless networks allow personal computers to access the network without the use of wires and cables between them. This often allows for mobility and flexibility in computing. One possible drawback to a wireless network is the fact that radio signals can be weakened by physical obstacles, such as walls. This often means wireless signals may not reach every area of a home.

A wireless router can be used as part of network infrastructure.
A wireless router can be used as part of network infrastructure.

For the most part, a wireless home network relies on two main types of hardware, the wireless router and the wireless network adapter. The router typically attaches to a home’s high speed Internet access point, such as a cable modem. It should then broadcast the modem’s signal wirelessly to the home’s computers. The router may also allow each computer to network with the others in its wireless range.

There are standards for the particular radio frequencies emitted by wireless routers. The typical standard is known as 802.11, named after the organization that created the standard. Nearly all wireless routers conform to 802.11, but some systems have been altered to allow for higher bandwidth, and to allow more computers to connect to a wireless home network at the same time.

Each computer attached to a wireless home network should have a wireless network adapter, also called a Network Interface Card (NIC). These cards act as wireless receivers for each computer on the network. The adapters allow the computers to communicate with the router.

Many new computers come with these wireless receivers standard from the factory. If a computer does not have an adapter on-board, users can install a card themselves. There are versions of these aftermarket cards for both desktop and laptop computers.

An individual may wish to encrypt their wireless home network so that unauthorized computers cannot enter the network, typically through the router. There are a couple of reasons for this safety precaution. First, outside computers may be able to use Internet bandwidth without paying for it, thereby leaving less accessibility to the home users. Second, the outside computers may be able to access personal information on the network computers.

A network adapter, which is used to connect to a wireless home network.
A network adapter, which is used to connect to a wireless home network.

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