I think we should start by saying that generally speaking, we wouldn’t ever recommend wireless networking for an office environment for two main reasons:

  • It can be less reliable than a wired network and in a business environment, this unreliability could cost the business dearly for the sake of investing in a wired network.
  • It has a much lower bandwidth than a wired network and so is unsuitable for a business that needs to work with large files which could grind a wireless network to a halt (like the sort of thing regularly sent by design agencies).

However, if cost is an issue and you intend to only use the network for light use, then wireless networking may be an option up to about 5 PCs. Once you get above this then there are likely to be conflicts with PCs “fighting” to use the network and this will slow your systems down.

Let’s start by explaining what “wireless” means. Well pretty obviously it means that hardware devices, such as your PC and the router that connects you to the internet, transmit information between each other without the need for a wire; instead they use radio signals. Providing your devices are within the “hot spot” (or “in range” as we used to refer to it) then they can happily talk to each other as if there’s a wire between them.

How does wireless networking work?

As wireless devices use radio waves, then just as your radio signal varies depending on where you are, so does your device signal. This means that they tend to only work up to about 100 metres (still quite a distance) and numerous thick walls between the two devices may also cause problems. However, this means that most devices will work happily in and around most small modern offices without a problem.

The first thing to consider is what type of network to use. The current flavours of wireless network are unhelpfully denoted by the numbers ‘802.11’ followed by the letter b, g or n as follows:

  • b – This is the oldest and slowest and has a bandwidth of up to 11 Mbps (Mbps stands for ‘megabits per second’ which is how much data transfers across per second) and a fairly short range
  • g – Currently the most common and is faster at up to 54 Mbps with a greater range
  • n – Is the latest and has a bandwidth of up to 200 Mbps and even broader coverage.

Don’t worry too much about the terminology; all you really need to know is that the greater the bandwidth, the faster the connection! This means that if you want to download large files then the faster the better. However, it is worth noting that the speed reduces as the signal weakens so a category b network with a strong signal may actually be faster than a category n with a weak signal.

For a small office, we would only recommend g or n depending on the environment and exact requirements.

With the expansion of wireless networks, there are occasions when your signal may interfere with signals from other office or nearby houses causing the connection to be unreliable. If you think this is the case then call in the experts as it’s possible to find a free channel and force your router to always use this.

It’s important to know that it isn’t only your router that has to be capable of using wireless; to connect wirelessly your device (PC, laptop, handheld organiser, etc) must be compatible too. Check to make sure that your device is ‘WiFi Enabled’ and that it can also connect using network type b, g or n (as appropriate).

Expert Advice from The PC Support Group

If you’re not sure about what your current devices are capable of and you need advice on exactly which router to purchase, or you need help to set it all up securely, then any quality computer support company should be able to help.

There is, however, an important consideration when setting up and using a wireless network… security! Did you know that unless your wireless network is properly set up with the right security, any wireless device can connect to your network when in range? That includes your office neighbours and anyone passing by your home, including ‘information thieves’ who actively seek out your confidential information such as your security settings when banking online.

To protect yourself you need to set a password (or key) on your router that will be demanded every time an unknown device tries to connect. WEP encryption is the simplest form of security used by older wireless devices, but for greater security (which we recommend) then you should choose WPA which is almost impossible to break into.

So what about those hard to reach spots? If the signal from your router doesn’t quite reach every corner of your office then you have a few options.

You can add one or more wireless extenders to boost the signal. These are devices that connect to your wireless network and broadcast their own wireless signal, effectively providing coverage beyond the reach of the main wireless signal. Alternatively, you can consider a different kind of wired option. ‘Homeplugs’ use the electrical wiring in your building to transmit information. Simply put one plug into an electrical socket near your router, connect it to your router, then put another into a socket in the room that has the weak signal. When in that room your device will now use the electrical cabling to talk to the router and out to the internet. Recently, homeplugs have started appearing with wireless access points at one end, effectively giving you a wireless connection anywhere there is an electrical point.

So what about those devices you have that aren’t wireless-ready? Perhaps you have a printer that you would like to use from anywhere in your office or share with other staff? In many cases it is possible to buy a unit that plugs into your devices USB connection (many printers and PCs under 5 years old have a USB connection) and once installed and configured with the supplied software will work wirelessly.

We’re not pretending that all of this is easy so if you would like to go wireless but would like help from the experts to get it all working (and supply everything too if you wish) then just contact The PC Support Group, we will be happy to help.