What Hardware Is Required to Build a Wireless Network?

The heart of most wireless networks is the wireless router

WNDR3700 Netgear
Netgear

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, tablets and smartphones incorporate wireless capability as a built-in feature of their systems.

Separate add-on adapters must be purchased for older laptop PCs; these are available in either PCMCIA "credit card" or USB form factors. Unless you are running old hardware, you can set up a wireless network without worrying about network adapters.

To increase the performance of network connections, accommodate more computers and devices, and increase the network's range, other types of hardware are needed.

Wireless Routers and Access Points

Wireless routers are the heart of the wireless network. They function comparably to traditional routers for wired Ethernet networks. You need a wireless router when building an all-wireless network at home or office. The current standard for wireless routers is 802.11ac, which deliver smooth video streaming and responsive online gaming. Older routers are slower, but still work, so the router choice can be made by the requirements you plan to put on it.

However, an AC router is dozens of times faster than the 802.11n version that preceded it. The AC router also handles multiple devices better than the older router models. Many homes have computers, tablets, phones, smart TVs, streaming boxes and smart home devices that all use a wireless connection with the router.

The wireless router usually connects directly to the modem supplied by your high-speed internet service provider by wire, and everything else in the home connects wirelessly to the router.

Similar to routers, access points allow wireless networks to join an existing wired network. This situation occurs in an office or home that already has wired routers and equipment 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 can use a Wi-Fi wireless antenna to significantly increase the communication range of the wireless radio signal. These antennas are built in on most routers, but they are optional and removable on some older equipment. It's possible to mount aftermarket add-on antennas on wireless clients to increase the range of wireless adapters. Add-ons antennas are usually not required for typical wireless home networks, although it's common practice for wardrivers to use them. Wardriving is the practice of deliberately searching a local area looking for available Wi-Fi wireless network signals.

Wireless Repeaters

A wireless repeater connects to a router or access point to extend the reach of the network. Often called signal booster or range expander, a repeater serves as a two-way relay station for wireless radio signals, to allow equipment otherwise unable to receive a network's wireless signal to join. Wireless repeaters are used in large homes when one or more rooms doesn't receive a strong Wi-Fi signal, usually because of their distance from the wireless router.