Home Office WLAN How-To

By Jim Geier | Posted March 31, 2004

For years, wireless local area networks, WLANs (define) for short, have been supporting enterprise applications, such as warehouse management and mobile users in offices. With lower prices and stable standards, home office and small business owners are now installing WLANs at a rapid pace; in fact, this market spends more money now on WLANs than enterprises.

Wi-Fi the Easiest to Install
It's much easier to install a WLAN at home than a wired network. A typical home office user won't consider running cables throughout the house. It's time consuming and requires stringing wires through the walls, which can be tricky and frustrating.

The installation of a wireless system, however, only requires the connection of a WLAN router to the broadband modem and the installation of Wi-Fi cards (define) in the laptops and PCs (if they don't already have them). You'll be ready to start networking in less than an hour. Consequently, installing a WLAN at home is much faster and easier than installing a wired network, the main reason why wireless in home offices and small offices is flourishing.

Flexible Access Makes Life Easier
With a WLAN, employees can bring laptops home from work and continue working just as they do from their offices. For many professions, this makes it possible for people to work from home more effectively, whether it's to spend a few more hours researching stuff on the Internet or enable telecommuting on a daily basis.

Of course with a wireless laptop, you truly can work from anyplace in the house. There's nothing tying you down to a desk in a particular room. You're free to use the Internet or access files on other computers while relaxing in a comfy chair in front of a TV, lounging on the patio breathing fresh air, or sitting at a desk in a quiet bedroom, just like you see in the commercials.

As an independent consultant, I do much of my work from home. Without any defined work hours (a good thing), I tend to work off and on from morning to late evening (a bad thing). With this type of work schedule, I like the idea of working in the presence of family, which enables me to socialize a bit despite my work habits. With my wireless laptop, I can easily go back and forth to work.

WLANs at home office setups are good for PCs as well. Unlike larger companies, Ethernet cabling in homes is nearly nonexistent. That makes wireless the best way to connect stationary PCs to the network. You'll have much more flexibility in locating a PC to any part of the house without being near the broadband modem.

Internet Connection Sharing
Many homes now have more than one computer. After purchasing a new PC, homeowners will generally hold on to the older PC. It may not be the best for running some of the newer games, but it still offers a good station for browsing the Web and interacting with e-mail. Of course some people will also bring a laptop home from work or purchase one instead of upgrading to a newer PC.

With multiple computers, it's extremely beneficial to have them interface to the same Internet connection. Because of the ease of installation, a WLAN is the best solution for sharing the Internet service. Thankfully, for most, the days of dialup are over. Just be sure to install a WLAN router (not an access point) to ensure that you have Network Address Translation (define) and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (define) services necessary for all of the computers to share a single, official IP address (define) supplied by your Internet service provider.

Printer Sharing Increases Usability
Without a WLAN, most home office users must cable their printer directly to a PC or the Ethernet connector on the broadband modem. This limits the number of places that the printer can reside. Generally, it must sit within a few feet of the PC or modem.

A Wi-Fi print server, however, enables the printer to be accessible over the network. This makes printer placement extremely flexible. For example, you may find it most useful to have the printer in the family room where you do most of your laptop computing. Or, it might make more sense to have the printer just inside the door that leads to your patio. You can also easily move the printer to new locations whenever you want to.

Now that you have an idea of why Wi-Fi makes sense in home offices and small businesses, we'll take a look at how to set up and configure a smal WLAN in the next tutorial.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers training focusing on wireless LANs.

Adapted from Wi-Fi Planet.com, part of the internet.com network.

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