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Wireless Networks

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With each innovation that comes to the world of computing, there is a dramatic increase in the power, convenience, and connectivity offered by these devices. The invention of powerful processors enabled computers to yield more powerful calculations for deeper applications. The development of the laptop brought portability to this power. In the last couple of years, the revolution in wireless network computing has finally turned the dream of a completely interconnected and networked society into a reality.

The Development of Wireless Networks

Wireless networks have actually been in existence for several decades. The distant grandchildren of telegraphs and short wave radios, wireless networks were used as far back as the 1970s for business and military purposes. As you might imagine, computers at the time were in a relatively nascent stage, and the applications of these wireless networks were severely limited.

With the aid of increasing computational power and the introduction of wireless standards, however, wireless networks gained significant efficiency and efficacy. The 802.11b and 802.11g standards (among others) have broadened both the amount of data that can be transferred in a given moment, as well as widened the frequency range over which information can flow. Today, we are finally able to transfer data incredibly fast over a wireless network--in many cases, this flow happens even quicker than it does on certain dial-up connections.

The beauty of these wireless networks is that almost anyone can install the necessary equipment on his or her home computers both quickly and easily. All you need is a base station to act as an access point (AP), and a wireless card in your laptop or desktop computer. The AP acts as a sort of central operator, transmitting the network traffic to all client computers. The client computers receive and transmit their own signals through an easy-to-install network card.

Applications for Wireless Networks

One of the most common benefits of a wireless network is that of widespread access to the Internet. Anybody with a laptop computer equipped with a wireless card can easily gain access to the Internet when within range of a wireless area, or a so-called "wi-fi hotspot." Many businesses and public areas, such as parks and libraries, have started offering this access as an incentive for people to associate there. By configuring your machine to log on to nearby networks--an easy task--you can take advantage of these free services.

Another popular use for wireless networks is the creation of a home wireless LAN. If your home has multiple computers, it is possible to access one machine from another--wirelessly. If both machines are equipped with wireless equipment, you can generally configure them in such a way that each appears directly in the Finder (Mac) or in My Network Places (Windows) of the other machine. With a few extra steps, it is even possible to access a Windows PC from a Macintosh machine, or vice versa. Printers, too, can be accessed wirelessly from other computers in your home.

Wireless Security Concerns

Of course, with such a vast array of features and access privileges, security can become a major concern in wireless networks. Sure, you can access the Internet and the other computers in your house--but so can just about anyone else within range. Most people keep valuable information and personal files on their computers. To keep these files secure, it is vital that you configure your wireless network properly. Many wireless network devices come preconfigured with the passwords turned off by default. If you plan on using a wireless network, you must rectify this situation quickly.

Generally, at least two sets of passwords are necessary for the secure setup of a wireless network. One password, generally configured and modified at the router or wireless switch stage, consists of the overall network password. With this feature turned on, only those with the password can take advantage of your wireless service. A second password should then be installed on each computer attached to the network. This way, the only people who can access the files on an individual machine are those with proper privileges.



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