Holiday 2012: Home Networking
This holiday season, many people are out and about buying new Wi-Fi-enabled cameras, televisions, music players and more. Many more are buying laptops, tablets and desktop PCs, all with wired and wireless capabilities. Then these people are going home, unboxing their purchases, and waiting patiently for the wireless fairy to come down and connect everything.
Oh no? Oh yes. Many consumers these days are unaware as to what home networking involves. When you set up a home network, you’re basically asking for all of your wireless devices to play nicely together. This is not as simple as it seems, although it has gotten much simpler in the last few years.
But where do you begin? Why, right here, of course. And how are we going to explain the concept easily enough for everyone to understand? Homing pigeons.
That’s right, homing pigeons. First you need the pigeon. We call this pigeon an Internet Connection. You have to pay for this pigeon/connection. Buying a home networking device does not automatically give you access to the Internet—it’s like having a pigeon coop but no pigeon.
Basically, there are still two fundamental ways to connect to the Internet. Dial-up service (a slow-moving, one-winged pigeon), virtually obsolete these days, transmits your data through antiquated phone lines—but it still exists, usually in places where no other high-speed connections are available. You can also connect through an ISP or Internet Service Provider, usually your cable or phone company. They come and wire your home for cable TV, and usually offer phone services, Internet services and TV services in one package (a much faster dual-winged homing pigeon). Once you have the pigeon, you’re ready for the next step.
The pigeon can rest directly on your laptop or PC. This enables you to send the pigeon out whenever you want. Some televisions can even nest your pigeon directly through built in Wi-Fi technology. But for most people, the pigeon rests on the home laptop or PC.
But you may want the pigeon to carry messages back and forth to other PCs, laptops, tablets or smartphones throughout the house. You want the pigeon to be able to rest on any of those devices and carry important and vital information or data that is only shared between those devices, and not to anyone else. This is called a home network. You can keep the pigeon on a leash (wired connection) or you can let the pigeon fly free (wireless connections). The pigeon will move movies, music, photos and other data throughout your home, safely and securely.
Lettering in Wireless—What Does it Mean?
802.11a was developed at the same time as 802.11b – but it used the 5.0GHz frequency and it was expensive to implement. It could transmit at 54Mbps, but again, it was so expensive to use that most users quickly adopted the 802.11b standard. It only has about a 50ft range without high-gain antennas, and because it uses a different frequency, it is incompatible with 802.11b equipment.
You’ll see a lot of letters applied to wireless connections. These are all just different types and speeds of connections for wireless transmissions. First, we’re going to call the two major lanes of traffic that pigeons fly in the GHz Band lanes. Right now, those two lanes are 2.4 GHz (older, a little slower and very crowded) and the 5.0 GHz lane (newer, less crowded—for now).
Back in the old days (five years ago), most wireless connections used a 2.4 GHz signal across the 802.11 B or G protocols. 802.11 B had a standard transmission rate of about 11 Mbps, while 802.11 G ran faster on the same band, about 54-108Mbps (depending on the number of streams—wings—that your pigeon had. Single stream = 54 Mbps, dual stream = 108 Mbps). A stream is the transmission across the band. If you had a dual band router, you got two streams.
That used to be more than enough speed, until everyone wanted pigeons. Pretty soon, the skies were darkened with all the pigeons around, and people started looking for higher transmissions speeds. They got it with 802.11N, which had a remarkably improved data rate (still on the 2.4-3.0 GHz range, although it does sometimes share the 5.0 GHz band) of 150 (single stream) 300 Mbps (dual stream) and 450 Mbps (triple stream). Pigeons were very happy. Wireless N was also backwards compatible with Wireless A/B/G.
But now, there is a new lane in the skies, called 802.11AC (sometimes called 5G Wi-Fi). It has ceiling speeds of 450 Mbps (single stream), 900 Mbps (dual stream) and 1300 Mpbs (triple stream). It operates exclusively on the 5.0 GHz band and the ceiling speeds alone are perfect for high-speed transmission of video over a home network. In other words, your pigeon will fly so fast from your phone to laptop to TV that all you’ll see is a blur of feathers. And while the AC protocol is relatively new, the routers are debuting at manageable prices.
All of this means nothing when hardwired. If you keep your pigeon on a leash, and all your pigeon coops are connected by an Ethernet wire, then you’ll receive one of two data transmission rates—either 10/100Mbps for older routers and some laptops, or 10/100/1000Mbps (also called Gigabit Ethernet), which is much faster and more reliable. If you’re using a dial-up modem, your pigeon will have to walk from room to room.
All of the routers we’ll talk about mention transmission speeds that seem very high. You will rarely see those transmission speeds. Why? Those are optimal speeds, and lots of times, a pigeon’s path is obstructed by walls made of wood, brick and metal. These walls impede the pigeon’s progress. Sometimes, many times, they will slow the pigeon down.
There is also a ton of other birds in the air. Cell phones, your microwave, your television, laptop and smartphone—all of these represent other flying creatures that are constantly blocking your pigeon’s path. So when you see a router advertise a speed of 900 Mbps, remember that your pigeon may not fly that fast—but it will still fly faster than that rooster of a wireless phone will.
So you have your pigeon (Internet service). Let’s talk pigeon coops. Routers are pigeon coops that safely hold your pigeon and keep it from the eyes of people that want to steal your pigeon (and if you leave the cage door on your coop open, people will steal your pigeon, trust me).
Want your pigeon to fly like an eagle? Look into the ASUS RT AC66U Dual-Band Wireless AC1750 Gigabit Router. Running on the aforementioned AC protocol across both bands, you could see transmission speeds of up to 1.75 Gbps—that’s right, Gigabits per second—450 on the 2.4 GHz and 1.3 Gbps on the 5.0 Ghz (remember the other birds flying in the air that we talked about). It also includes four Gigabit Ethernet ports, three adjustable antennas and file/printer sharing via two USB ports. It features the AiCloud, a unified app for iOS and Android devices, which lets you access stream, share and sync through cloud-based storage, anywhere on the web. And with the AiRadar, the high-powered detachable antennas let you optimize wireless coverage throughout the house.
If you think investing in the AC protocol is a bit premature, you should also look at the RT-N66U Dual Band Wireless N900 Gigabit Router also from ASUS. It features 450 Mbps over each frequency for 900 Mbps speed. It also includes 4 Gigabit Ethernet/1 Gigabit WAN port and is VPN Server enabled (for when you want to put a bigger lock on your pigeon coop). Also from ASUS is the RT-N56U Dual Band Wireless N600 Gigabit Router, which features the same cross-spectrum, dual-band efficiency, using both bands to transmit up to 600 Mbps (300 Mbps concurrently). 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports, full encryption including WPA2-PSK and WPA-Enterprise and dual USB ports also top the list for this router.
Buffalo offers the AirStation AC1300 / N900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router. Its name alone should tell you that not only does it deliver 450 Mbps across each band in Wireless N mode, it is also ready to transmit 1300 Mbps in the AC protocol on the 5.0 GHz band. Add the 2.4 GHz band at 450 Mbps, and you’re looking at another 1.7 Gbps transmission packet. 5 Gigabit Ethernet ports, WPS Push Button setup, USB network sharing and backwards compatibility with 802.11 a/b/g/n make this a very clean coop.
Netgear also has the R6300 802.11ac Dual Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router. It features concurrent speeds of almost 1.7 Gbps (450 Mbps and 1300 Mbps), 4 Gigabit Ethernet/1 Gigabit WAN and two USB ports. It includes one-button WPS for simple security and DLNA capabilities, along with guest network access (so people can use their own pigeon in your home without disturbing yours).
If you’re ready to let your pigeons loose, another 802.11 AC router to consider is the EA6500 Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router by Cisco. In addition to the 1.7 Gbps transmission speed and 4 Gigabit Ethernet/2 USB ports, you can also configure this router as a DLNA media server for even clearer and faster transmission of your stored digital data. In other words, your pigeon coop can also deliver all of your entertainment needs directly from the coop.
Finally, if your pigeon likes Apple, and many do, you should start by looking at the AirPort Extreme Base Station. This is a pigeon coop that works very well with Apple pigeons. It is an 802.11a/b/g/n dual band router—it works in both the 2.4 GHz and 5.0G Hz bands for greater reach and more flexible connections. It includes the ability to share any hard drive connected to your pigeon coop across your home network and also includes three LAN Gigabit Ethernet ports (for hardwiring printers or other peripherals), one Gigabit WAN port and one USB port (which can be used to attach external hard drives).
Routers with Storage
When is a pigeon coop more than a pigeon coop? When there’s enough room to store your pigeons and all your movies, music, photos and data—inside the coop.
Some routers contain internal storage, enough so that you can store data and then retrieve it directly from the router. Put simply, you won’t have to continually access your PC (even if it is networked) just to get to your entertainment. In order to cut down on resource hogging, you can simply ask the router to access the information from the router itself. This helps in transmission reliability and speed, although you can always attach a hard drive to your router’s USB port for much the same effect. But having the router store the data is also helpful when you want to access the data from just about anywhere over the Internet. Virtual pigeons, can I get a witness?
Again, Apple pigeons have their own routers with storage. The Apple Time Capsule in 2TB and 3TB versions feature the 802.11 a/b/g/n protocol, and with their simultaneous dual operation, you can use either the 2.4 GHz or 5.0 GHz band. This router also contains a 2TB or 3TB drive for backing up your Mac computer or laptop. It also contains 3 Gigabit Ethernet/1 Gigabit WAN and 1 USB port. Security protocols include NAT Firewall protection to keep your pigeons protected.
Western Digital offers a pair of routers with attached storage as well. The 1TB My Net N900Q Central HD Dual-Band Storage Router features dual band transmission (450 Mbps on both the 2.4- and 5.0 GHz band for 900 Mbps total speed), 4 Gigabit Ethernet /1 Gigabit WAN and 1 USB port. Since almost every device now needs its own IP address, this device also future-proofs itself by including IPv6 protocols. But the 1TB internal hard drive is the deal-sealer here. It includes WPA/WPA2 and SPI firewall security measures. The 2TB My Net N900Z Central HD Dual-Band Storage Router just adds more room to the coop.
Extenders, Repeaters and Boosters
Sometimes your pigeon gets tired knocking into walls and competing with all the other birds in your home. Your pigeon may experience bottlenecking, slow transmission speeds or hiccups in transmission. Sometimes your pigeon needs a little help.
You can add a mini-pigeon coop to your home network. This mini-pigeon coop is also known as an extender or booster. This mini-coop gives your pigeon a resting place when flying data from one point to another. An oasis. A pigeon spa, so to speak.
The Linksys WUMC710 Wireless-AC Wi-Fi 5 GHz Universal Media Connector Bridge with 4-Port Switch by Cisco is one of the first 802.11ac extenders. It boosts the signal from an 802.11ac router (but is also backwards compatible with 802.11 a/b/g/n protocols) for up to 1300 Mbps speed through your home or office. 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports, a MIMO (multiple inputs/multiple outputs) antenna and WPS push-button security with Wi-Fi Protected Access top the list for this extender.
The High Power Wireless-N 600mW Smart Repeater by Amped Wireless extends your Wi-Fi signal within a 10,000-foot range using dual 600mW amplifiers and two 5 dBi high-gain antennas. These devices usually come with their own ports so that you can connect wired devices to them if they're placed in another room, and the Amped includes 5 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports. It operates solely on the 2.4 GHz band and transmits 300 Mpbs.
The Belkin Dual-Band Wireless Range Extender also amplifies the range of your Wi-Fi with an internal amplifier. It helps to eliminate “dead” spots in the home—places where your pigeon cannot or will not fly, and includes 4 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports. This unit operates on dual 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands at 300 Mbps on each port.
Diamond offers the WR300N 300Mbps 802.11n Extender, Access Point, and Bridge. This extender can be used to pick up a weak signal from your router and extend it, or place it in another room, pick up the signal, and hardwire a device to its 10/100 Mbps port. It includes its own 64/128-bit WEP, WPA and WPA2 security protocols.
The D-Link DAP-1525 Wi-Fi Booster boosts 802.11 g/n signals with a 6-element, beam-forming antenna. These six multi-directional antennas find and track individual devices, then focus bandwidth to those devices. It includes 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports and 1 USB port. It also has a switch button to select bridge mode, the 2.4-GHz frequency, or the 5.0-GHz frequency.
Did you know you can extend the range of your pigeon coop through your home or office’s existing electrical outlets? Plug-in extenders do just that—they plug into the wall outlet and extend the range of your existing home network, wirelessly and through hardwired connections. The effectiveness of the Wi-Fi units will vary in the same ways that other extenders will—location, walls and crowded networks will all have an impact on how well these work.
Wireless Plug-In Extenders
The WN3000RP Universal Wi-Fi Range Extender by Netgear includes 300 Mbps transmission speed, dynamic LED indicators that help you decide optimal placement and security features like WPA/WPA2-PSK and WEP. It works on the 2.4 GHz band and is perfect for rooms where your iPad or laptop is not getting the strongest signal.
D-Link also makes the PowerLine Homeplug AV Wireless N Starter Kit, which contains one wireless extender and one adapter. You connect the Powerline adapter to your router’s Ethernet port and then plug it into a wall, turning every outlet in the house into a Wi-Fi connection. Then you plug the extender into an outlet where the signal is weaker, giving you a 200 Mbps throughput. Your pigeons will appreciate the boost in power.
Wired Plug-In Extenders
The D-Link DHP-501AV PowerLine AV 500 Adapter Starter Kit features a 500 Mbps throughput, 128-bit AES Encryption and a QoS (quality of service) engine that manages the flow of traffic and gives HD movie streaming the highest priority. You connect one adapter to your network and plug it into the wall, where it creates a network connection. Then you plug the other adapter into the wall in another room, and hardwire a laptop or other device to the wall-socket unit. It includes two adapters so that you can start flying your pigeons to the farthest reaches of your home immediately.
For another option, TP-Link has the TL-PA511KIT AV500 Gigabit Powerline Adapter Starter Kit. This kit also plugs one adapter into your home network while another is used in an alternate room, and hardwired to your device. It features 500 Mbps throughput and 300-meter range. The TL-WPA281KIT 300 Mbps AV200 Wireless N Powerline Extender Starter Kit has the same range, the same functionality and the same setup, but transmits 300 Mbps over the socket network, while the TL-WPA271KIT 150 Mbps AV200 Wireless N Powerline Extender Starter Kit transmits 150 Mbps.
Pigeons on Your Computer
To connect successfully with your laptop or PC, wirelessly, means that your device has to have Wi-Fi built in, either on the motherboard or through an adapter, otherwise your pigeons aren’t going anywhere (smartphones and tablets have integrated Wi-Fi—if they don’t, you shouldn’t buy them). But if you have an older laptop or a desktop that has no wireless function, fret not.
ASUS makes the Dual-Band 300 Mbps Wireless-N USB Adapter. It plugs into an available USB port on your computer and gives you dual-band accessibility to the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands at speeds of up to 300 Mbps. It includes all the security features you need, including 64-bit WEP, 128-bit WEP, WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK, WPA-Enterprise, WPA2-Enterprise and WPS support. Because it’s attached to a flexible USB cable, you can manipulate the adapter for a wider range of coverage.
The Universal Wi-Fi N Adapter (Multi Language Version) by Iogear uses dual antennas to add 802.11n Wi-Fi to any compatible device, like Blu-ray players, HDTVs or game consoles. You connect the device to your home network, and then attach it to your compatible device via USB. It sends a wireless N signal for faster transmission speeds over b/g (up to 150 Mbps). It’s an inexpensive way to add wireless N functionality to a device.
The Linksys AE2500 Dual-Band Wireless-N USB Adapter by Cisco also adds 802.11n functionality via USB. This dual-band adapter allows up to 300 Mbps transmission speed. 2 internal single band antennas at 1.2 and 1.0 dBi receive the signal from your router. Although it's less than three inches long, you still get all the security features you’d expect, including WEP, WPA & WPA2 Personal, WPA & WPA2 Enterprise and WPS.
So, there you have it, pigeons—a comprehensive look at how your data flies around your house, how to lodge a pigeon and other pigeon accessories. Remember that in order to join the wired (and wireless) generation, you’ve got to be wired. There are also very helpful pigeon-keepers at the B&H SuperStore who can help you with these and hundreds of other questions you might have—like about buying the right Ethernet cable, the difference between Cat 5 and Cat 6 cables and more. Happy holidays. Coo.