Home > Think Tank > Five Steps to Creating a Wireless Network --- Step 1
November 4, 2013

Five Steps to Creating a Wireless Network --- Step 1

Can I set up a Wi-Fi network?
Setting up a wireless network is easier than you might think. Whether you are setting up a Wi-Fi network for
you home, or for the office, you don’t have to be a tech guru to handle the job. That is why the Wi-Fi Alliance
has created this easy-to-follow, step-by-step plan to creating your own wireless network. Simply follow the five
steps outlined below and you will be on your way to experiencing the freedom of Wi-Fi.
Five steps to setting up your Wi-Fi network:
* Step 1 — Planning
* Step 2 — Equipment Selection
* Step 3 — Set Up
* Step 4 — Adding Wi-Fi to Desktop Computers
* Step 5 — Security
Step 1—Planning
Setting Up A Wireless Network
Once you've decided to free yourself by "going wireless," you can reap all the benefits of mobile computing —
and it's simple and easy to set up and operate a wireless network. Here's how to plan for, install and operate
your Wi-Fi? network:
What Makes Up a Wireless Network?
Wi-Fi devices "connect" to each other by transmitting and receiving signals on a specific frequency of the
radio band. Your components can connect to each other directly (this is called "peer-to-peer") or through a
gateway or access point. When you create your Wi-Fi network it will consist of two basic components: Wi-Fi
radios and access points or gateways.
Wi-Fi radios are embedded or attached to the desktop computers, laptops and mobile devices in your
network. The access points or gateways act as "base stations" — they send and receive signals from the Wi-
Fi radios to connect the various components to each other as well as to the Internet. All computers in your Wi-
Fi network can then share resources, exchange files and use a single Internet connection.
Do I Need a Peer-to-Peer Network, Or One with a Base Station (An Access Point or Gateway)?
A peer-to-peer network is composed of several Wi-Fi equipped computers talking to each other without using
a base station (an access point or gateway). All Wi-Fi CERTIFIED? equipment supports this type of wireless
set-up, which can be useful for transferring data between computers or sharing an Internet connection among
a few computers in a room. A peer-to-peer wireless network can be a good solution if you have three or fewer
computers or if you're on a budget but most users will use an access point to connect Wi-Fi devices since this
will provide for the best user experience and allow for easier Internet sharing.
What Are the Wi-Fi Radio Options for My Laptops, Desktops and PDAs?
Many laptop computers and mobile computing devices come with a Wi-Fi radio built in. They're ready to
operate wirelessly. For most other laptops you will insert a Wi-Fi radio embedded in a simple PCMCIA
(Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) card — commonly called a PC Card — into the
laptop's expansion slot.
You have several ways to include desktop computers in your network. Since most don't provide slots for PC
Cards, the simplest method is to use a USB (Universal Serial Bus) Wi-Fi radio that plugs into an available
USB port on your desktop computer. Install the software and you're up and running.
Wi-Fi Alliance
If you have no available USB port on your system, you need to install a PCI or ISA bus solution. This requires
you to remove your computer casing and open up your computer to find an available PCI or ISA bus slot. The
manufacturer's set-up instructions will show you how to install the device you purchase. (Some Wi-Fi
manufacturers provide one-piece ISA and PCI bus radios. Others provide ISA or PCI bus adapters that
enable you to use the same slide-in Wi-Fi PC Cards that you would use in your laptop.) Apple offers an
embedded Wi-Fi radio, the Apple AirPort Radio, which you can personally install in new Macintosh
Personal Digital Assistants like Palm?, Visor? and Pocket PC? have a slot for a Compact Flash format Wi-
Fi radio. (Some laptops also have Compact Flash capability.) There are also new small-format Wi-Fi radios
for PDAs and mobile data devices becoming available, offering additional options for wireless connections in
the future.
Planning for Access Points and Gateways
The Wi-Fi access point or gateway functions as the base station for your network. This is the central
connection among all your wireless client devices—laptop computers, PDAs, desktop computers and wireless
peripherals like printers. The base station sends and receives radio signals to and from the Wi-Fi radio in your
laptop or PC, enabling you to share your Internet connection with other users on the network. Access points
and gateways have a wide range of features and performance capabilities, but they all provide this basic
network connection service.
How Many Users Can Use a Single Access Point?
Wi-Fi networks, like wired networks, are a shared medium. An 802.11b Wi-Fi network may provide 11 Mbps
of bandwidth to an individual user. Theoretically, if ten users are simultaneously using the network, each will
have to share and may only get 1 Mbps or so each. However, network sharing is not quite this simple. A lot
depends on the users' behaviors. Someone who is just sending and receiving e-mail just uses the wireless
connection in bursts. They will probably never notice any slow down. On the other hand, a roomful of Wi-Fi
users who are accessing high-resolution multimedia over a single access point may indeed notice a
slowdown. In this instance, they may require additional access points or higher speed access points that use
802.11a or 802.11g that provide 54 Mbps or better of bandwidth.
Note: Depending on how the users connect and what they do once they are on the network, you may need to
use higher speed access points, as well as more of them.
Choosing Components for Your Network
To set up a Wi-Fi network, you need to consider the components, the users and how you will use the network.
The following checklist shows you how to choose components:
First, count your total number of users and computers. Most homes have three computers at most, while a
small business usually has fewer than 15. Each component will need a Wi-Fi radio. If your laptops are not
preconfigured with an embedded Wi-Fi radio, you need a Wi-Fi PC Card radio for each.
How many laptops do you have?
___Need PC Card
___Preconfigured (contain an internal Wi-Fi NIC)
Each of your desktops will need either a Wi-Fi USB adapter (which combines a PC Card radio with a USB
converter circuit) or a Wi-Fi PCI/ISA adapter (which is a radio available with or without a built-in PC Card
How many desktop computers do you have?
Wi-Fi Alliance
___PCs with sufficient USB jacks for USB adapter hookup (requires Windows? 98 or newer)
___PCs that need PCI or ISA adapter
___PCs with existing PC Card slots
Next, your PDAs will also need radio devices. Some can use the same PC Card used in laptops; some use
Compact Flash.
How many PDAs do you have?
___Need PC Card
___Use Compact Flash
___TOTAL Wi-Fi Radio Components Needed
Place a Wi-Fi Radio in Each Computer
After you've determined the number and type of Wi-Fi radios you need, install a radio in each component that
you want to include in your network.
Determine the Number of Base Stations (Access Points or Gateways) You Need
You will also need a Wi-Fi access point or gateway to serve as the central base station for your network. A
typical Wi-Fi access point can support some 15 to 20 users, so most homes and small offices need only a
single access point. However, if you have a very large dwelling (or house) or if your office is spread out, you
may need more. How far will your WLAN go? A basic rule of thumb is 100 to 300 feet indoors and 2000 feet
outdoors. Your range may vary, based on the building or environment you're using it in. For more information,
search Access Point Range Guide.
Of course, the number of access points depends on how the network is used and the total number of users,
as well as how big a space needs to be covered. A single access point can easily handle from 10 to 30 users
who only use the network to send e-mail, cruise the Internet and occasionally save and retrieve large files.
Within a typical office environment, most access points can provide good wireless coverage up to 150 feet or
so. For large facilities with many users, or with users who require a lot of bandwidth, you may need more than
a single access point. Many access points can be connected to each other wirelessly or via Ethernet cables to
create a single large network.
How many users do you have, and is your space unusually large?
___Typical users
(Sending e-mail, surfing the Internet and occasionally saving and retrieving large files). Solution = single
access point
___More demanding users
(Transferring very large files often, access and use streaming video). Solution = multiple access points
clustered together using different channels
___Large working area
(In excess of 300 feet as in a warehouse or large open office). Solution = multiple access points spread out
___Estimated Total Wi-Fi Base Stations Needed
Wi-Fi Alliance
How Do You Connect Your Wi-Fi Network to the Internet?
You can use a variety of high-speed Internet connections with a Wi-Fi network, including cable modems,
different types of DSL, satellite broadband, ISDN, etc. Your broadband Internet connection will connect to
your gateway or access point, and its Internet connection will be distributed to all the computers on your
network. And don't worry about Wi-Fi slowing down your connection speed: it's at least four times faster than
the fastest of any of these connections. If there's an Ethernet cable attached to your Internet device, you can
connect it to your base station to distribute your Internet connection throughout your home or small office Wi-
Fi network.
How Do You Make Printers Work on Your Wi-Fi Network?
If you want to share printers, you can connect them to a computer on the network, you can dedicate a Wi-Fi
equipped computer to act as a printer server or you can connect a Wi-Fi equipped printer or print server to
your network to control your print jobs. (A shared printer connected to a computer must have the computer
turned on to access the printer via the wireless Wi-Fi connection.)
A wireless print server is a small computer and Wi-Fi radio built into a single box; a Wi-Fi equipped printer
connects directly to your Wi-Fi network. A Wi-Fi print server or a Wi-Fi equipped printer can make your printer
accessible to your network.
Many additional Wi-Fi enabled devices will soon be appearing. Each will have its own embedded Wi-Fi radio
to connect directly to your network. That means you won't need to connect your Wi-Fi peripherals to an
always-on computer or a stand-alone Wi-Fi radio adapter. These devices can include scanners, cameras,
telephony devices, video and TV monitors, DVD players, appliance controllers, multimedia players and
Can You Share Devices on Your Network to Save Money?
Yes. If you don't need to have each computer on the network all the time, you can save money by sharing the
PC Cards for your laptops and other mobile computing devices and the USB radio/adapters for your PCs and
laptops. For example, when you're working in the office, your USB radio can be connected to your desktop
computer. When you go on the road with your laptop, the same USB device can connect to your laptop
computer's USB slot to provide mobile connectivity. When you're at home, you can hook the same USB radio
to your desktop computer and use it to access your home Wi-Fi network.
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