What is Wireless
The term wireless networking refers to
technology that enables two or more computers to
communicate using standard network protocols,
but without network cabling. Strictly speaking,
any technology that does this could be called
wireless networking. The current buzzword
however generally refers to wireless LANs. This
technology, fuelled by the emergence of
cross-vendor industry standards such as IEEE
802.11, has produced a number of affordable
wireless solutions that are growing in
popularity with business and schools as well as
sophisticated applications where network wiring
is impossible, such as in warehousing or
point-of-sale handheld equipment.
What is a wireless network
made up of?
- An ad-hoc, or peer-to-peer wireless
network consists of a number of computers each
equipped with a wireless networking interface
card. Each computer can communicate directly
with all of the other wireless enabled
computers. They can share files and printers
this way, but may not be able to access wired
LAN resources, unless one of the computers
acts as a bridge to the wired LAN using
special software. (This is called "bridging")
- A wireless network can also use an access
point, or base station. In this type of
network the access point acts like a hub,
providing connectivity for the wireless
computers. It can connect (or "bridge") the
wireless LAN to a wired LAN, allowing wireless
computer access to LAN resources, such as file
servers or existing Internet Connectivity.
There are two types of access
- Dedicated hardware access points (HAP)
such as Lucent's WaveLAN, Apple's Airport
Base Station or WebGear's AviatorPRO.
Hardware access points offer comprehensive
support of most wireless features, but check
your requirements carefully.
- Software Access Points which run on a
computer equipped with a wireless network
interface card as used in an ad-hoc or
peer-to-peer wireless network.The Vicomsoft
InterGate suites are software routers that
can be used as a basic Software Access
Point, and include features not commonly
found in hardware solutions, such as Direct
PPPoE support and extensive configuration
flexibility, but may not offer the full
range of wireless features defined in the
With appropriate networking
software support, users on the wireless LAN
can share files and printers located on the
wired LAN and vice versa. Vicomsoft's
solutions support file sharing using TCP/IP.
What is IEEE 802.11?
Wireless networking hardware requires the use
of underlying technology that deals with radio
frequencies as well as data transmission. The
most widely used standard is 802.11 produced by
the Institute of Electrical and Electronic
Engineers (IEEE). This is a standard defining
all aspects of Radio Frequency Wireless
If I have more than one
hardware access point, how can I share a single
If an existing wired LAN already has an
Internet connection, then the hardware access
points simply connect to your LAN and allow
wireless computers to access the existing
Internet connection in the same way as wired LAN
If an access point provides some form of
Internet sharing itself, then having multiple
such access points connected to a wired LAN may
require some special configuration, or possibly
may require an additional Internet sharing
device or software program.
If my computer is connected to
a wireless LAN, can it communicate with computers on
a wired LAN as well?
To do this you will need some sort of bridge
between the wireless and wired network. This can
be accomplished either with a hardware access
point or a software access point. Hardware
access points are available with various types
of network interfaces, such as Ethernet or Token
Ring, but typically require extra hardware to be
purchased if your networking requirements
If networking requirements go beyond just
interconnecting a wired network network to a
small wireless network, a software access point
may be the best solution.
A software access point does not limit the
type or number of network interfaces you use. It
may also allow considerable flexibility in
providing access to different network types,
such as different types of Ethernet, Wireless
and Token Ring networks. Such connections are
only limited by the number of slots or
interfaces in the computer used for this task.
Further to this the software access point may
include significant additional features such as
shared Internet access, web caching or content
filtering, providing significant benefits to
users and administrators.
What is the range of a
Each access point has a finite range within
which a wireless connection can be maintained
between the client computer and the access
point. The actual distance varies depending upon
the environment; manufacturers typically state
both indoor and outdoor ranges to give a
reasonable indication of reliable performance.
Also it should be noted that when operating at
the limits of range the performance may drop, as
the quality of connection deteriorates and the
Typical indoor ranges are 150-300 feet, but
can be shorter if the building construction
interferes with radio transmissions. Longer
ranges are possible, but performance will
degrade with distance.
Outdoor ranges are quoted up to 1000 feet,
but again this depends upon the environment.
There are ways to extend the basic operating
range of Wireless communications, by using more
than a single access point or using a wireless
relay /extension point.
How many wireless networked
computers can use a single access point?
This depends upon the manufacturer. Some
hardware access points have a recommended limit
of 10, with other more expensive access points
supporting up to 100 wireless connections. Using
more computers than recommended will cause
performance and reliability to suffer.
Software access points may also impose user
limitations, but this depends upon the specific
software, and the host computer's ability to
process the required information.
Can I have more than one
Yes, multiple access points can be connected
to a wired LAN, or sometimes even to a second
wireless LAN if the access point supports this.
In most cases, separate access points are
interconnected via a wired LAN, providing
wireless connectivity in specific areas such as
offices or classrooms, but connected to a main
wired LAN for access to network resources, such
as file servers.
What is Roaming?
A wireless computer can "roam" from one
access point to another, with the software and
hardware maintaining a steady network connection
by monitoring the signal strength from in-range
access points and locking on to the one with the
best quality. Usually this is completely
transparent to the user; they are not aware that
a different access point is being used from area
to area. Some access point configurations
require security authentication when swapping
access points, usually in the form of a password
How can I use a wireless
network to interconnect two LANs?
Yes. Wireless networking offers a cost-effective
solution to users with difficult physical
installations such as campuses, hospitals or
What about security?
Wireless communications obviously provide
potential security issues, as an intruder does
not need physical access to the traditional
wired network in order to gain access to data
communications. However, 802.11 wireless
communications cannot be received --much less
decoded-- by simple scanners, short wave
receivers etc. This has led to the common
misconception that wireless communications
cannot be eavesdropped at all. However,
eavesdropping is possible using specialist
To protect against any potential security
issues, 802.11 wireless communications have a
function called WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy),
a form of encryption which provides privacy
comparable to that of a traditional wired
network. If the wireless network has information
that should be secure then WEP should be used,
ensuring the data is protected at traditional
wired network levels.
Also it should be noted that traditional
Virtual Private Networking (VPN) techniques will
work over wireless networks in the same way as
traditional wired networks.
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