Wireless networks buyer's guide
Wireless networks are a standard way of enabling different computers and devices to talk to one another within a home network and connect to broadband internet wirelessly.
Once set up you can share printers, stream music and video, and access the internet on your phone and games console, along with a host of other possibilities.
In general, if a device says it’s wireless, Wi-Fi or 802.11b, 802.11g or 802.11n compatible then you know it will work with a suitable home wireless network.
Creating a wireless network
At the heart of a wireless network is a wireless router.
All your wireless devices connect to this and it routes all the network messages between them.
If it’s connected to a broadband router, or is itself a cable or BT broadband router, then it will also connect everything to the internet.
Choosing a type
There are two speeds of wireless network - ‘N’ and ‘G’. They are both compatible with each other but ‘N’ is potentially far faster and works over a longer range than the older ‘G’ standard (‘N’ does however cost more to buy).
If you want your wireless router to connect your devices to the internet it will need the right type of broadband connection built into it.
For homes that use a BT phone line to connect to the internet, it is essential to obtain your broadband connections username and password from your Internet Provider before attempting to set your wireless router/modem up.
If you use Virgin then look for models called Cable modems. Having said that, if you already own an existing broadband box you may be able to simply plug your new wireless router into this for an instant internet connection.
Making it secure
It is of course vital that you secure any wireless network.
This not only stops other people piggybacking your network and using any broadband connection for illicit means, but also protects personal files that could be accessed over it.
New wireless routers provide a number of simple ways to secure your devices, but all should provide an easy-to-use password system called WPA or WPA2.
This is no more complicated than setting a password on the router and doing the same on any devices that want to connect to it.
Connecting other devices
With a wireless router connected and suitably protected you can connect other devices to it.
For wireless enabled devices such as printers, phones and laptops it’s just a matter of turning on their Wi-Fi, selecting your new router from the list of detected devices, and entering the password.
For desktop PCs you will normally also need to add a USB wireless dongle.