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Things to Consider for Home Networking

By Jeff Bloom & Rob Kay

The scenario was all too common at our place. It's early evening and two teenage girls and their grade school sister are fighting over whom is going to be able use the one computer connected to the Road Runner cable modem. Two of the kids have homework projects that entail lengthy research using the Internet and another wants to get into a marathon Instant Messaging session with her cousin in Canada. In the meantime, dad needs the computer to pay a few bills. What's a family to do?

Now that broadband Internet access via cable or DSL is almost ubiquitous in Hawaii, sharing that one connection across multiple computers in your home is the next step.

Assessing Your Needs

The first thing to consider is what your particular networking situation calls for in the way of infrastructure. Are your computers scattered throughout the house? Do you have a small home office with several PCs that you share with your spouse or the kids? If the latter scenario is the case, that is you have multiple PCs in the same room, the low cost, high-speed solution is a "traditional" wired network. In this situation, the main thing you need to do is purchase a high quality hub/router/firewall, a few lengths of Category 5 Ethernet cable to connect your boxes, a few network cards and voila, you've got a network.

Many manufacturers make these products and they start in the $100-150 range. A good model to consider is the SMC Barricade ($100) or a similarly priced item from Linksys (available at CompUSA) that can handle up to four machines. If you want a box that has high security combined with VPN capabilities consider the WatchGuard SOHO ($350) or the Rolls Royce of firewalls, the SonicWALL Tele 3 ($500).

If your PC users are spread throughout the home, the task of setting up a traditional wired network in your house is onerous, because it most likely entails drilling through Junior's bedroom and crawling under the floor space in order to string cable. Thank goodness, the wireless revolution is here.

The Wireless Option

Wireless networking technology has been slowly been perfected over the last few years and goes under the name of the 802.11b protocol. More commonly called "WiFi", this system gets our vote as the killer app. If you have a family that needs their bandwidth, the technology is now here to get your home networked sans cables.

There are a number of manufacturers out there but we looked at four highly rated solutions from Proxim (www.proxim.com), NetGear (www.netgear.com) Linksys (www.linksys.com) and Asante (www.asante.com) that would serve you well. All four--the Proxim Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway, NetGear MR314, Linksys EtherFast Wireless Router and the Asante FriendlyNET FR3002AL Wireless-Ready Internet Router--share the common traits of being gateways that direct data in and out of your network and also act as firewalls.

The Nerve Center

All of the devices, roughly the size of a large paperback, function as the digital nerve center of your home network. They allow you to connect with laptop and desktop computers via radio waves (and cable too), thus sharing a single broadband Internet connection, as well as printers and files, up to a 300-foot range at speeds up to 11mbps.

Believe it or not, all the wireless routers were fairly easy to set up and operate. To install the devices, you start by plugging in the power supply and connect the Ethernet cable (which is included in all the kits) from your cable or DSL modem to the router box. After that it's a matter of adding the wireless PC cards to every machine on the network and then typing in a few numbers into a web-based form from your keyboard. As the saying goes, it's not rocket science, however the results definitely are 21st century technology.

In our next column we'll conclude the article by discussing what it takes to connect up your home or small business and point you towards the best product for your home or office.

Jeff Bloom, SBA Small Business Person of the year, is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is jeffb@cta.net or 839? 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at rkay@pactechcom.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.

Published December 21, 2001

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