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A Wired or Wireless LAN?

Should I use a Wired or Wireless LAN?

Whether to use a wired or wireless LAN setup depends very much on one basic question: do you normally access your PC from a fixed location or not..? If the answer to this is Yes, then you should be thinking more of a wired LAN over wireless. If you have a laptop/tablet and tend to move around the home (-or garden) with it, then wireless makes more sense.

Whether to use a wired or wireless LAN setup depends very much on one basic question: do you normally access your PC from a fixed location or not..?

These days, every ISP (Internet Service Provider) throws in a wireless router (-also known as Wi-Fi) as part of the package, but do not be tempted to assume that "wireless is best". There are a number of advantages to using a wired LAN over a wireless one, including the following:

  • Reliability: wired networks tend to be much more reliable as they have a dedicated wire, suitably insulated, down which the router or server can converse with any clients

  • Speed: wired networks almost invariably provide higher speed connections (-basically due to the increased reliability)

  • Better Security: it's more difficult to tap into a (suitably secured) wired network than a wireless one as there is no airborne signal that can be picked up

  • Energy Saving: less electricity is consumed if your router can send a stream of electrons down a wire instead of having to broadcast on the airwaves

  • Health: this is contentious and unproven but there has been talk of possible health effects of flooding your home with the strong radio waves (-similar to mobile phone signals) sent out by a wireless router (-e.g. see this article from "The Times")

The advantages that a wireless LAN has over a wired one are:

  • Mobility: wireless networks allow you the freedom to move around the home property with your PC. However, it is important to remember that this can be a double-edged sword -in that you may see your signal reduce or drop completely, depending on the construction of the property and your distance from the router

  • Ease of Physical Setup: wireless networks do not require cables to be installed between your router and your PC location(s), although they may well require more stringent security setup in order to secure them properly

  • Compatibility: rather annoyingly, some manufacturers are assuming the use of Wi-Fi and are therefore not fitting a suitable RJ45 port for a wired connection (-e.g. virtually all touchpads and a lot of printers). If this is the case for your hardware, you may be forced to go Wi-Fi

  • Cost: assuming you have a wireless router, then you do not have to purchase ethernet cable to connect each of your PCs to your router. However, 50m of decent (cat 5e or above) cable can be had for less than £20 at the time of writing (May 2011), so the saving is not vast

Our advice is therefore to only use a wireless LAN if you absolutely require the mobility that they provide: if your PC sits in your study most of the time, then it is probably better to use a wired connection.

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