Wireless Networking

What kind of hardware will I need?

The minimum requirement for a wireless network is a wireless adapter (or wireless NIC) in each PC. These can take several forms. Many new notebooks have a wireless adapter built-in. These often take advantage of the Intel Centrino's support for Wi-Fi standards.

Notebooks that don't have a wireless adapter can gain one in the form of a PC Card or USB adapter. A PC card adapter is generally less obtrusive, but a USB adapter can more easily be redeployed to desktop systems.

Desktop users can choose between the two. If you or your business is purchasing new PCs, consider ones with built-in cards, as this will be cheaper than adding them later.

Whatever device you have, it's good practice to purchase 802.11g hardware if you can afford it. This will offer higher speeds and remain compatible with older 802.11b networks. Conversely, the rise of 802.11g means that 802.11b equipment is rapidly becoming cheaper, which may remain an important consideration for many businesses.

PCs equipped with wireless adapters can communicate directly with each other via a peer-to-peer network, but this is of limited use for most businesses. Assuming you already have a network in place, the easiest way to get wireless access is to link a wireless access point to your existing hub or router. Entry-level access points are available from around $200.

Despite the name, the wireless access point connects to your network hub via conventional cable and has its own IP address. Each PC with a wireless adapter can then connect to the access point, which in turn provides access to network resources. Make sure your access point can support the number of users you'll need.

If you want to minimise hardware, access points with built-in routers, DHCP servers (to assign IP addresses to each machine on the network) and even DSL modems are available. These combine the functions of several pieces of networking gear into one. This integration can be useful, but such devices are more expensive.

For larger offices, multiple wireless access points can be connected, which is a useful way of extending the range of devices beyond the 30-metre indoor limit. Note, however, that other factors such as walls or other electronic devices may restrict the range, no matter how many 'hopping points' you use. Microwaves, in particular, have been known to cause problems.

Device management is simple for entry-level wireless access points, and configuration can usually be done via a Web browser. With more complex equipment, such as access points with integrated routers, network knowledge may be required for set up tasks. If your system is complex, you may need to hire a consultant.

An important part of network configuration is sharing your Internet connection. Your ISP should be able to provide you with details on how to make your broadband link accessible to wireless clients. Some sell the hardware and services to do so, as a package.

Bear in mind that a wireless network in itself doesn't provide any form of Internet access. You'll still need broadband from a service provider to connect to the Internet. Wireless also doesn't offer any speed increase; if your broadband only runs at 512Kbs, then that's the fastest speed you will be able to achieve.

Wireless game adaptor

Wireless game adaptor

Another recent addition to the wireless world is the game adaptor. These devices are designed to connect to the standard Ethernet port of a gaming console such as an Xbox or Playstation2. By converting the network traffic to the 802.11b protocol, these adaptors allow driver-free wireless gaming over a LAN or the Internet. By using two of these adaptors in ad-hoc mode, local wireless network gaming is possible between two consoles. Although they are intended for game consoles and are more expensive than conventional wireless network cards (about $210), there is no reason why these adaptors can't be used with standard Ethernet cards in desktop and notebook PCs, either.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

PC World Staff

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?