What is a Computer network?
A computer network helps us to share information, a single broadband connection and peripherals like printers by connecting all the computers. The simplest network can be established by just connecting two PCs with a cross-over cable and you can share files, applications without extra hardware.
However, when we go for high-level networks, where more than two computers and a number of network devices have to be linked and to enable faster transfer of data, we would require some additional hardware like hubs, switches, routers and access points.
Peer-to-peer network and Client-server networks
Computer network can be setup by two ways:
1) Peer-to-peer network and
2) Client-server network.
In a peer-to-peer network, all computers are connected directly and serially to each other. Each PC can function as a stand-alone device as well as communicate with other PCs. This network design is ideal for home network or in a place where a few computers have to be networked.
In a client-server network, one of the PCs functions as a server through which all information is transferred to other PCs. All PCs are connected to the server which stores files, applications, internet devices which can be shared by other computers. Where numerous PCs have to be connected and controlled by a single administrator, this method is quite ideal. Most businesses use this kind of network design.
Advantages of Networking
Network enables file sharing between computers without the help of floppy drives or CD drives. This means any information can be transferred from one PC to another PC and files can be saved on any PC within the network. This leads to greater flexibility, faster transfer of data and time saving.
Network needs just one peripheral like printer or scanner or web cam for all computers which are hooked to network. Irrespective of the PC, the printer or scanner is connected to, you can give appropriate commands right from any PC and the commands will be executed. This feature is not only convenient but also cost-effective.
The central advantage of a computer network is that a single broadband connection and a broadband modem can be used simultaneously by all computers in the network. While it sounds a good deal of cost saving, it also offers convenience for the users. They can engage in different internet tasks simultaneously. However you need to choose right broadband package depending on the number of computers hooked up, if you don't want lose connectivity speed.
VoIP is already a cheap option of making calls compared with standard telephony. For a network of PCs, you need to purchase just one set of VoIP devices which can be used by other users. So, you further save a lot of money.
PCs and internet have become great sources of entertainment for kids as well as adults in recent times. Once you connect devices like game consoles and DVRs to your network, multiple users can access online games and videos.
Wired and wireless networks
In a wired network, ethernet cables are generally used to link all PCs although phone wires, co-axial cables or even electrical wires can be used for this purpose. Wired networks are suitable for business places due to its increased cost, maintenance and difficult installation.
Wireless network allows us to link computers without the help of wires. Computers are simply connected to access points or nodes using PC card and data is transferred between nodes in the form of radio waves. Wireless networks more suitable for home networks, due to its easy, mess-free installation.
Wired network is also known as Ethernet network as Ethernet cable is generally used to connect PCs and network devices.
What you need to setup a wired network?
- The PCs which have to be linked should have a network adapter and usually all modern PCs come with a network adapter or you have to buy one for each PC.
- You would require Ethernet cables or the latest CAT5 cables to link all the PCs.
- You need a broadband modem to get internet access.
- You may need a router to connect the broadband modem with all PCs. However, using router is optional. Routers are a bit expensive, but they make your internet sharing easier and more secure as they can function like hardware firewall.
- You may also require Ethernet hub if you want to connect a number of network devices to your network.
- PCs should have USB port which enables you to connect devices that have no connectors.
Advantages of Wired network
Ethernet cables, hubs and switches may not cost you much but a broadband router can. But the other works involved in setting up a wired network like cabling, hiding the cables etc, may actually end up more expensive than a wireless networks.
Wired technology is highly dependable and the components like Ethernet cables and hubs come with improved features all the time. In a wired network, there would not be any failure unless there is any loose cable or improper connection. So check the cable and connection whenever a failure occurs.
Some people a prefer a wired network if you need faster file transfer and high speed broadband access. Slowing of internet may occur sometimes if numerous computers linked to network. In that case, switch can be used in place of hub.
Wired network uses wires for transfer of data. So communication is safer when compared with wireless network. Use of routers in network also enhances the security features in a wired network.
Disadvantages of Wired Network
When a number of computers have to be linked, installation can be a bit laborious and time-consuming. As the lengthy cables are used, they need to be hidden otherwise the whole setup will appear messy.
You cannot enjoy the mobility like the wireless network. You may feel tied to an Ethernet cable which means you are unable to move your computer far or take your laptop to your garden for instance.
Network may sometimes fail due to poor quality of wires or improper connections. If any failure occurs, you need to check the cables and connections which can be tough and time consuming.
Advantages of a wireless network
Wireless network is much simpler compared to wired network. No lengthy wires or cables that usually make messy in case of wired network. All you need is a PC card, a short cable to connect your PC or laptop with access point or a wireless router to get your PC wirelessly connected to internet.
You can take your laptop anywhere within the coverage of wireless network thus facilitates better mobility. Wireless routers and access points are coming with improved features and signal strengths thus making wireless networking ideal for large homes.
Declining setup cost
As the prices of wireless routers and adapters are falling, the number of homes adopting wireless network has been increasing.
Disadvantages of a wireless network
Higher setup cost
Setup cost could be higher than wired network. Wireless routers, wireless adapters and access points are generally more expensive despite its declining prices.
Wireless network uses the transmission of radio waves and radio waves can be blocked by walls or interfered by domestic devices like cordless phones or microwave ovens. When you setup wireless network, you have to watch out for this.
Even the advanced 802.11g wireless technology can offer just half the speed of fast Ethernet wired network. Another disadvantage is that the optimum performance of the wireless network heavily depends upon the distance between the PC and access point or wireless router. Farther you are from access point, you are more likely to get poor signals. Similarly, more the number of users the less the quality of performance
Prone to security risk
Wireless signals travel through air and can be blocked by hackers unless the network sends the data in encrypted mode using Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption method.
With the appropriate attention to security though, wireless networks are a convenient option to suit most homes and offices.
Setting-up a Broadband Network
Here is a general guide to how to set up a broadband network. Since equipment specifications vary a lot and constantly change, please check with the user manual about how to use that particular product. It is not too difficult to set up these networks and Internet service providers are quite helpful nowadays as they send you clear instructions on how to set up a network and use the equipment.
Setting up a Wireless Network
Wireless broadband network is less time consuming and easy for installation. You can also enjoy greater mobility using a wireless network.
These plug into your phone socket and connect to the broadband router.
Depending on the mode of your broadband connection, you either need an ADSL modem or cable modem, which should be of good quality to support your wireless network.
Wireless router is an essential part of wireless network. It is connected to your modem and allows multiple computers to share an internet connection. Many of the new wireless routers also act as modems, which you will know when you read the user guide or manual supplied with your product. It also provides security features to networking. The basic function of wireless router is to send and receive wireless communication to the PC.
Wireless network adapter
Wireless network adapters usually come with your PCs. If not, you have to buy them. They form an intermediary part between wireless routers and PC. In a wireless network, each computer should have a wireless network adapter.
Steps in setting up a wireless network
1. Choose the wireless network standard
There are three standard wireless networks available presently. They are 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g. Most home networks use 802.11b standard which is the least expensive of the three and can support up to 11 Mbps broadband connection.
The 802.11a wireless network is a bit more expensive but offers faster communication. It is mostly employed in businesses.
The latest 802.11g standard can support up to 54 Mbps broadband and is the most expensive of all network standards.
2. Buy compatible equipment for your wireless network
Once you have chosen your network standard, you have to buy equipment like wireless routers and wireless adapters to match it.
3. Plug the wireless adapter
Wireless adapter can be added by inserting networking adapter into an empty slot in your PC. After that, configure your wireless adapter. When you start your OS like Windows XP, it will automatically detect the hardware you recently inserted, and begin to configure it. If needed, you have to use some installation CD given along with adapter.
4. Link your wireless router with modem
Connect your wireless router with your modem. Now, when the modem is plugged into internet, the wireless router will get send and receive signals from internet. It will broadcast wireless signals to your PC.
5. Configure the wireless router
Next your wireless router has to be configured. Wireless routers will have network ports and you have to connect the appropriate port to PC with a network cable. Start your internet browser program and configure your wireless router. Enable Wireless encryption (WEP) security feature which will protect your network from hackers.
To get internet access through access point, just insert the PC card into it and you will become a part of wireless network.
Securing your wireless network
Network safety is a feature that makes your data communications more safe and reliable. Whether it is wired or wireless, a network sometimes can be prone to security risks. You will be surprised how many people allow their wireless network to be easily accessible to their neighbours or even passers-by.
Password protect your network
A Router which functions like a hardware firewall can prevent many attacks. Most routers will come with a weak password as default, so make sure you change it to something secure. Passwords like "password123" are easy to guess or hack into.
Update your firewall
Configure the firewall programs properly. Your ISP may offer you firewall programs free of cost. All you have to do is to configure it properly and run regular updates. Most firewalls are capable of stopping internet hackers or spyware. You can either update these manually or set up an automatic update.
More tips on securing wireless networks can be found in the following sites:
Wireless networks can be still safe, so do not be put off by the security issues.
If you take some care in securing your network, wireless networks are not so unsafe as some people fear them to be. The newer Wireless networks come with Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption method which ensures that your data more safe. Remember, with the new equipment and security improvements, most security breaches happen due to people being lazy to pay attention to appropriate measures.
Setting up a wired Network
Network adapter can be added by inserting networking adapter into an empty slot in your PC. In a wired network, each computer should have a network adapter.
Configure your network adapter. Start your OS like Windows XP which will automatically detect the hardware you recently inserted, and begin to configure it. If needed, you have to use some installation CD given along with adapter.
All computers in the networked are linked by plugging the Ethernet cable into their network adapter. Depending upon the network design, the wiring differs. If it is peer-to-peer network, connect all computers directly and serially using the cables. If it is a client-server or star network, the cable line has to be distributed through a centralized server.
Connect your router with your modem. Remember, router is an optional part of wired network. The function of router is to distribute a single internet connection among the PCs connected to network. Router can also act like hardware firewall, so it adds security feature to your network.
Next your router has to be configured. Connect your router to the host computer with the help of cable. Start your internet browser program and configure your router. Don't forget to switch on the security features that come up with the router.
Setting up broadband Home networks
With a home network, you can share your ADSL broadband connection with up to 10 home computers - so everyone can get online without the family squabbles.
You don't have to be a computer whiz, and there's no need to rewire your house. A home network incorporates a modem, router and hub to connect your computers together so you can share one ADSL broadband connection.
When all your computers are connected, you can share files without transferring them to disk, play shared games and even share equipment (e.g. there's no need to buy more than one printer).
Example of a Home Network Set-up
Please note that this is only for illustration purposes to explain how a network is set up. The specifications, equipment used etc, were correct at the time of writing this page, but these things do change with time. Whilst the basics will be similar, always check the manuals and instructions on your particular broadband modem or router. The following example is illustrated using 2 popular models of BT broadband modems, provided as part of BT wireless broadband packages.
XHome network Equipment
Home Network PC Adapter
If you want to connect more computers to your network with wires, you'll need to purchase one adapter for each extra computer
If your phone sockets are being used by telephone equipment (phones, faxes, etc) you will need a microfilter for each piece of equipment. Note: the standard two-computer package comes with two microfilters. To connect additional computers without wires, you'll need a wireless adapter for each. Note: the standard two-computer package comes with two microfilters. To connect additional computers without wires, you'll need a wireless adapter for each. BT offers two choices for PC users:
You'll need one of these adapters to connect each desktop PC to your network via a USB port.
Example of a wireless Laptop Adapter
You'll need one of these cards to connect each laptop PC to your network via a PC Card (PCMCIA) slot.
Example of a wired network set-up
Example of a wireless network set-up