We've come to take for granted the idea of being able to surf the web using a wireless hotspot or 3G dongle, but setting up a home Wi-Fi network is quite another matter. PC Advisor assesses the latest routers, and offers practical buying advice.
Going wireless is a popular option these days. Tangles of wires and trailing cables are not only unsightly - they are unnecessary now that so many products can be made to work without them.
For those that prefer to do so, it's possible to go the ethernet route and use HomePlug units that offer a physical wired connection and make use of the electrical circuit embedded in your home. However, this can be expensive: you need a £60 plug - and an available mains socket - for every item, whereas you can connect five or six devices at once to a wireless network.
All you need is for them to have a wireless radio and to be compatible with one of the versions of wireless your router supports.
This bit is where Wi-Fi can get confusing. There are several versions of Wi-Fi, labelled 802.11a, b, g and now n. Version a is quick but has a range of just a few metres; b is slower wih better range.
Wireless g combines the best of both, but it still isn't able to transfer enough data at once to send video around the home. The g standard is fast enough to stream music from one device to another, however, which is why there are now so many audio products designed to let you stash your music collection on a device in one room and enjoy it from another.
Wireless g products are also fine for accessing documents, including photos.
If you're connected to your home network via a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop that uses the 802.11g standard, getting online to surf the web, update your Facebook status, view Flickr galleries, send instant messages and check email will all be feasible. You should also be able to make decent-quality VoIP (broadband-based) phone calls.
If this is all you're likely to want from your Wi-Fi setup, an 802.11g network will be fine. If you've got some wireless products that are labelled g and others that are marked a or b, you'll notice a slowdown when using them.
That's because the network can only perform at the rate of the slowest element. If you've got a sluggish 802.11g network, it may be a legacy peripheral that's causing the hold-up, rather than the network itself.
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