Everything You Need to Build a Wireless Network

The heart of most wireless networks is the wireless router

If you want to set up a home Wi-Fi system yourself or have it installed by your internet provider, there are some basics that you should know. In particular, learn about the components that make up most wireless networks and how these components work with one another. It's simpler than it sounds, and networking devices are becoming easier to use and more secure with each passing year.

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 laptop computers for more than ten years, tablets, and smartphones incorporate wireless capability as a built-in feature of these systems.

Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi Adapter

Separate add-on adapters must be purchased for older laptop PCs and desktops. These are available in either PCMCIA credit card or USB form factors. Unless you have old hardware or need a Wi-Fi adapter for your desktop, you can set up a wireless network without worrying about network adapters.

You'll need other types of hardware to increase the performance of network connections, accommodate more computers and devices, and increase the network's range.

Wireless Routers and Access Points

Wireless routers are the heart of a wireless network. These routers function comparable to routers for wired Ethernet networks. You'll need a wireless router when you build an all-wireless network for your home or office.

ASUS RT-AC68U Wireless AC-1900 Router

The current standard for wireless routers is 802.11ax, which delivers smooth video streaming and responsive online gaming. Older routers are slower but will work, and wireless AC is still a great choice, so the router choice can follow from 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 AX and AC routers also handle multiple devices better than the older router models.

Many homes have computers, tablets, phones, smart TVs, streaming boxes, and smart home devices that 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. 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 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 routers.

Wireless Antennas

Access points and routers can use a Wi-Fi wireless antenna to increase the communication range of the wireless radio signal. These antennas are built in to most routers but are optional and removable on some older equipment.

Sony STR-DN1030 Network Home Theater Receiver - Photo - Ethernet Connection - Wireless Antenna
Robert Silva

It's possible to mount aftermarket add-on antennas on wireless clients to increase the range of wireless adapters. Add-on antennas are usually not required for typical wireless home networks. However, it's a common practice for wardrivers to use these antennas.

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 a signal booster or range expander, a repeater serves as a two-way relay station for wireless radio signals. Repeaters allow equipment that is otherwise unable to receive a network's wireless signal to join.

Wireless repeater

Wireless repeaters are used in large homes when one or more rooms don't receive a strong Wi-Fi signal, usually because of the distance from the device to the wireless router.

Mesh Networks

Mesh Wi-Fi isn't new, but it's becoming increasingly popular at home. This is due to the ever-expanding number of connected devices people have. Mesh Wi-Fi networks function similarly to repeaters, but instead of creating a new, and redundant, access point, mesh networks provide a fluid and cohesive expanded Wi-Fi network.

Netgear Orbi Mesh Router System (RBK50)

You can purchase complete mesh Wi-Fi systems, and many modern wireless routers offer mesh network capabilities, allowing you to purchase a new router and use your old one to join in the mesh network and boost the signal.

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