Wireless Networking, Part 1: Capabilities and Hardware

Wireless Networking, Part 1: Capabilities and Hardware

These days it isn’t uncommon for a home to have multiple personal computers, and as such, it just makes sense for them to be able to share files, as well as to share one Internet connection. Wired networking is an option, but it is one that may require the installation and management of a great deal of wiring in order to get even a modestly sized home set up. With wireless networking equipment becoming extremely affordable and easy to install, it may be worth considering by those looking to build a home network, as well as by those looking to expand on an existing wired network.

The first installment in this two-part series of Tech Tips will provide an introduction to the basic capabilities and hardware involved in wireless networking. Once that foundation has been established, we’ll take a look at a few setup and security related considerations that should be addressed once the physical installation is complete.

Capabilities

The basic standard that covers wireless networking is the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) 802.11, which is close kin to the wired Ethernet standard, 802.3. Many people will recognize 802.11 more readily when accompanied by one of three suffixes (a, b, or g), used to specify the exact protocol of wireless networking.

The 802.11a protocol first hit the scene in 2001, and despite a small surge in recent popularity, it is definitely the least common of the three at this time. The signals are transmitted on a 5 GHz radio frequency, while “b” and “g” travel on 2.4 GHz. The higher frequency means that the signal can travel less distance in free space and has a harder time penetrating walls, thus making the practical application of an 802.11a network a bit limited. The maximum transfer rate, however, is roughly 54 Mbps, so it makes up for its limited range with respectable speed.

As mentioned, 802.11b and 802.11g networks operate on a 2.4 GHz radio band, which gives a much greater range as compared to 802.11a. One downside to being on the 2.4 GHz band is that many devices share it, and interference is bound to be an issue. Cordless phones and Bluetooth devices are two of many items that operate at this frequency. The range of these two protocols is about 300 feet in free air, and the difference between the two comes down to speed. 802.11b came first, released back in 1999, and offers speeds up to 11 Mbps. 802.11g first appeared in 2002 and it is a backwards compatible improvement over 802.11b and offers speeds up to 54 Mbps.

On top of these protocols, some manufacturers have improved upon the 802.11g standard and can provide speeds of up to 108 Mbps. This doesn’t involve a separate protocol, but just a bit of tweaking in areas like better data compression, more efficient data packet bursting, and by using two radio channels simultaneously. Typically, stock 802.11g equipment is not capable of these speeds, and those interested need to shop for matched components that specify 108 Mbps support. I say “matched components” as this is not a standard protocol and the various manufacturers may take different approaches to achieving these speeds. In order to ensure the best results when trying to achieve these elevated speeds, components from the same manufacturer should be used together. For instance, only Netgear brand network adaptors rated for 108 Mbps data transfer should be used with something like the Netgear WG624 wireless router (http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=WGT624NAR).

Considering your typical broadband Internet connection is going to offer data transfer rates of 10 Mbps or less, it can be seen that even 802.11b would be more than adequate if you just want to surf the web. Sharing files on your LAN (Local Area Network) is where the faster protocols will really make a difference, and comparing the prices of 802.11b and 802.11g components may show that there is little to no difference in selecting a “g” capable device over a comparable “b” capable device.

Hardware

Access Point – Wireless Access Point (WAP) is the central device that manages the transmission of wireless signals on a network. A base access point may be capable of handling up to 10 connections, and more robust APs may be able to manage up to 255 connections simultaneously. The D-Link DWL-1000AP+ (http://www.dlink.com/products/?pid=37) is an example of a wireless access point capable of 802.11b transmissions.

Router – In somewhat technical terms, a router is a network device that forwards data packets. It is generally the connection between at least two networks, such as two LANs, or a LAN and ISP’s (Internet Service Provider’s) network. For our purposes, and for the sake of simplicity, a wireless router is basically an access point with the added feature of having a port for sharing a broadband Internet connection. The D-Link AirPlus G (http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=DI524-R&cat=NET) is an 802.11g capable router that provides access for numerous wireless connections and four hard-wired connections to one WAN (Wide Area Network Internet) connection. A typical router for home use will generally cost less than an access point, and via settings within the firmware, can be used as just an access point anyway. Wired or wireless, all the computers using the router can share files over the network, as well as sharing a broadband internet connection. Communication between wireless computers (or a wireless computer and a wired computer) will max out at 54 Mbps, while communication between wired computers will take full advantage of the 100 Mbps provided via the 802.3 protocol.

Network Adaptor – A network adaptor is required for every computer that you would like to be connected to the wireless network. Many laptops, such as this Sony Centrino 1.5 GHz (http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=PCGZ1RA-R&cat=NBB) now include a wireless adaptor built in, so no extra hardware is needed. For those with systems that don’t have wireless capabilities built in, adding them is fairly simple, and can be done using a variety of connections. Desktop computers can go wireless by adding a PCI slot network adaptor such as the 802.11g capable D-Link DWL-G510 (http://www.dlink.com/products/?pid=308). Notebook users can easily add wireless connectivity by using a PCMCIA adaptor, such as this 802.11g capable device (http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=PBW006-N&cat=NET). And for truly convenient plug-n-play connectivity to wireless networks, USB adaptors such as this 802.11g capable dongle (http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=80211GWUD&cat=NET) are available.

Antenna/Extender – These items are not essential, but given the specifics of a wireless environment, they may be helpful. Devices such as the Hawking Hi-Gain Antenna (http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=HAI6SIP-N&cat=NET) or the Super Cantenna (http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=SCB10&cat=NET) serve the purpose of increasing the wireless signal strength, and therefore extend the range of a given wireless network. Not only can a large area of open space be covered, but the signal quality may be improved in structures with walls and floors that obstruct the signal transmission.

Final Words

In this Tech Tip, we took a look at the basics of wireless networking as it relates to capabilities and hardware. In the second part of this two-part series, we will look at some of the basic setup and security considerations that should be addressed. The physical installation of a wireless network may be exponentially easier than a wired network, but the more difficult part is setting up the software and security to make sure everything stays up and running without incident.

How to Protect Yourself From Laptop Theft

For most people owning a laptop is all about convenience. Being able to sit where your want to work, wander around from office to office, sit in front of the television or even brows the web in bed are the reasons why laptops have become so popular.

It has also become much more than a work tool. For many people it is the place where you keep all the things that are important to you: your email and financial information, business secrets, personal writings, even irreplaceable media like photos, film, and writings.

So if your laptop were stolen from you tomorrow, what would it do to your life?

Even worse, if a laptop belonging to your business were stolen that contained the personal data of customers or clients, it could put all of them at risk of identity theft and you could be held liable.

This crime draws both the common thief and the more sophisticated identity thief alike, and it's on the rise in England. Last year, a laptop belonging to the Nationwide and containing the personal information of over 11 million customers was stolen and never recovered. In London, laptop theft is up 15% on last year, with over 6500 laptops stolen in 2006 (not including laptops stolen out of homes and offices). Other metropolitan areas in Britain have similar statistics: over 2000 in Edinburgh with a 31% increase, and a 15% increase in Manchester.

Having a laptop stolen is personal nightmare if it is your own machine, but so much worse if you lose information that compromises your friends, co-workers, and clients. At Marks & Spencer's, a laptop lost in 2007 contained sensitive data about 26,000 employees, including their national insurance numbers and other personal identifying information. That cost Marks & Spencer's free credit checks for all employees and a promise to cover them for any damages if their identities were compromised. In the Nationwide case above, the company was fined just under a million pounds.

And even if you get the laptop back, even if the laptop was only "borrowed" its data can be copied off in minutes, putting any data on it at risk even after the machine is returned.

Two simple steps protect yourself against losing your personal computer?

The First Step: Protect Yourself

Laptops are at risk due to the very portability that makes them useful. It takes only seconds for someone to carry off your unguarded laptop, along with all its precious contents. The first thing to do is not leave it unprotected, even for a minute; Keep it in sight. Get good security on your wireless connections while you're at it, and carefully choose the places where you use that connection.

You can also get physical barriers against using a stolen laptop. For instance, biometrics including fingerprint scanners has become increasingly popular with laptops, and key cards that you keep in your wallet or luggage separate from the laptop can be used to secure it. Computers with hard drives mated to internal workings prevent your hard drive from being removed and copied. And if your laptop is used to access the Internet after it is stolen, there are subscription services that can trace it remotely and render it unusable while it connects to the web.

The Second Step: Consider Laptop Insurance

Laptop insurance is becoming one of the fastest growing specialist insurances. With low-cost monthly premiums, having some form of insurance policy could be the one thing between you and financial ruin. Laptop insurance is cheap, and if you have used other protections for your laptop, it gets even cheaper. Many providers offer worldwide cover, accidental damage protection and a 48 hour replacement service.

Protect yourself physically with laptop security and financially with good laptop insurance. With luck, you'll never have to depend on either. But if the worst comes about, you'll be glad you did.

Financial Strategies For Troubled Firms

There are strategies that troubled companies can use to save themselves from dire straits and regain their former financial success. These same sort of strategies are valuable for business owners and financial executives to understand how their firms can avoid financial turbulence and failure.

We must first realize that business failure or bankruptcy never happens overnight. Normally there is a gradual trend of financial deterioration that is sometimes exacerbated by industry troubles. No doubt in the current 2009-2010 environment the auto industry is a poster child for a troubled industry, as an example.

Naturally firms that are on the very precipice of failure or bankruptcy do not have many options or time left. It has to fix itself, or sink. No business owners or entrepreneurs want to face bankruptcy, liquidation, and other creditor issues.

Do financially failing firms survive because of a revival in products or their services, or have they in fact executed on improved financial management. This is a challenging questions, because the very financial problems that beset a firm hinder it in getting new sales, acquiring inventory, and regaining supplier credibility.

Also, lets be realistic, banks and other finance companies do not throw themselves at failing firms with financial offers of loans, lines of credit, etc. In fact what usually happens is that the company is forced to pledge some or all assets at much higher rates, sometimes simply accentuating the financial problems that were already there.

So what are the financial strategies that a firm can undertake to avoid financial failure when it has been losing sales, not generating profits, and generally traveling down a potential death spiral?

There are three or four solid strategies that can save the firm. The first is ‘ assets ‘. The second is liabilities and debt, and the third we will simply call ‘ maneuverering ‘.

Strategy 1:

Assets have value. They can be sold, re financed,, or pledged to secure new financing. This type of strategy works best when it works for all parties, the company and the lender, or the company and another firm. However lets be clear that this is somewhat of a one shot strategy. It either must work or it doesn’t. Asset maneuvers have 3 stages of success: assets can be used to get a new loan, assets can be sold, or they can, in somewhat of a worst case scenario, be liquidated.

Strategy 2:

On the other side of assets on the balance sheet is debt and equity. Debt can be structured properly to ensure the lender gets a reasonable reward, and the company is able to both repay and survive. There are too many types of debt to consider for the purposes of this article – suffice to say that creativity in debt is somewhat unlimited. A firm could issue debt, as an example, and repay only when the company is earning profits again.This would normally entail higher rates, but again, as we have stated, the transaction has to make sense both for customer and lender. A solid alternative solution is to simply re – structure existing debt at new rates and amortizations.

Alternatively to debt a company with promise can bring in new equity or ownership. This is somewhat more risk for all as dilution of ownership is usually significant when a company is failing and bring in new equity capital.

Strategy 3: A firm sometimes has to look to the outside for help. Since the owners and managers are often too close to the problem it is somewhat of a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Outside consultants and industry experts can often bring a solution to the table. They have insights that management simply did not possess. These strategies include developing new sales and product strategies, bring in new management, or considering a strategic merger.

In summary, anyone who has worked through several business cycles over a number of years knows that companies can in fact be saved. Some go on to be the new super stars of their respective industry. The company must clearly uncover what the problem is, and then adapt strategies, financial or otherwise, to fix those problems

Motor Insurance Quotes – Are Motor Insurance Quotes Legally Binding?

Q: Are the motor insurance quotes I receive from insurance companies binding? If so for how long?

A: The answer to that is yes and no. Let us explain. If you receive motor insurance quotes from an insurance company – then that is the price they are going to charge you. However, they are not legally bound to quote you the same price if you call them back three days later.

It is likely you will receive the same quote from the same company provided there were no incidents from when you first received the quote, but just because it is likely doesn’t mean that the company is bound to stand to by the earlier quote.

A good way to find out how long the quoted rate is good for is to ask the agent or representative who is giving you the quote. Be wary of a hard sell at this point however as the agent is going to realize you will be requesting quotes from other companies.

Motor insurance quotes are liable to change suddenly due to market changes, new insurance legislation, or a driving offense that may have occurred. To avoid this we recommend doing all of your insurance shopping over a one or two day span. This will ensure you get the price that was quoted to you.

Lastly, we strongly recommend that you take comparison shopping seriously when it comes to finding the best deal on auto insurance. While it may sound like common sense, there are many drivers who don’t take the time to compare quotes from different companies and end up overpaying for their coverage as a result.