What Hardware Is Required to Build a Wireless Network?

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The key hardware components of a wireless computer network include adapters, routers and access points, antennas and repeaters.

Wireless Network Adapters

Wireless network adapters (also known as wireless NICs or wireless network cards) are required for each device on a wireless network. All newer laptop computers incorporate wireless adapters as a built-in feature of the system. Separate add-on adapters must be purchased for older laptop PCs; these exist in either PCMCIA "credit card" or USB form factors.

No wireless hardware other than adapters is required to build a small local network. However, to increase the performance of network connections, accommodate more computers, and increase the network's range, additional types of hardware can be deployed.

Wireless Routers

Wireless routers function comparably to traditional routers for wired Ethernet networks. One generally deploys wireless routers when building an all-wireless network from the ground up.

Similar to routers, access points allow wireless networks to join an existing wired network. One typically deploys access points when growing a network that already has routers installed. In home networking, a single access point (or router) possesses sufficient range to span most residential buildings. Businesses in office buildings often must deploy multiple access points and/or routers.

Wireless Antennas

Access points and routers often utilize a Wi-Fi wireless antenna that significantly increase the communication range of the wireless radio signal.

These antennas are optional and removable on most equipment. It's also possible to mount aftermarket add-on antennas on wireless clients to increase the range of wireless adapters. Add-ons antennas are usually not required on typical wireless networks, although it's common practice for wardrivers to use them.

Wireless Repeaters

A wireless repeater connects to a router or access point. Often called signal boosters or range expanders, repeaters serve as a two-way relay station for wireless radio signals, helping clients otherwise unable to receive a network's wireless signal to join.