Come on, everybody's doing it-going wireless, that is. Whether you're exploring Wi-Fi for the first time or looking to expand your network, there are plenty of hardware options to choose from.
Let's start with a few tips: If you're planning to install the network yourself and are new to the technology, or if you're running older operating systems or computers, be sure to get free 24/7 technical support with your purchase. For optimum interoperability of software and methods, it's best to go with the same manufacturer for all your routers, access points and adapters. That way, tech support won't be tempted to pawn you off to someone else.
Your first decision will be which Wi-Fi standard to go with. The most popular standards for growing businesses are 802.11b and 802.11g. If for some reason you already have a mix of standards installed, there's plenty of multistandard hardware available to cover you. Plus, 802.11g is backward compatible with 802.11b, although at .11b data rates. We're going to look mostly at access points and routers, since these will be the main nodes in your system.
As you can tell by our product chart, there are many manufacturers to choose from. Picking your maker may be as simple as sticking with the same make of hardware you already have or choosing the best rebates. The specs and prices on these routers compare pretty well. The $113 (all prices street) Belkin router, for example, touts ease of setup using Belkin's advanced Easy Install Wizard. The lifetime warranty is also a nice plus.
The similarly priced D-Link AirPlus Xtreme G Wireless Router DI-624 boasts data bandwidth rates of up to 180Mbps with D-Link's hardware-based compression technologies. That's double the normal 54Mbps performance of most 802.11g routers. If you're working with high-bandwidth applications like streaming video, you might be able to make use of that sort of feature. Compare the Belkin and D-Link with the $99 Buffalo AirStation WBR2-G54. SMC Networks' Barricade g 2.4GHz 54Mbps Wireless Broadband Router With USB Print Server is a mouthful, but for your $130, you also get a built-in print server.
For more advanced needs, the $150 to $185 Netgear FWG114P ProSafe 802.11g Wireless Firewall With USB Print Server is like a Swiss Army knife. It has advanced firewall features, a VPN and a print server, and can handle your cable, DSL, ISDN or analog modem. The Linksys Wireless-G VPN Broadband Router features a VPN that can handle up to 50 remote users.
For expanding your network and to cover more ground, consider adding access points. The 3Com OfficeConnect Wireless 11g Access Point is an example. Once you've set one up, you can easily copy the configuration to others. 3Com also makes routers, so this might be a good choice if you already have 3Com hardware.
For restaurant and coffeehouse owners or anyone who wants to offer Wi-Fi access to their customers, the Nomadix Wireless Gateway AG-2000w is a hot spot in a box. It covers the 802.11a/b/g standards and comes with a suite of public access features to tailor it to your needs. The package clocks in at $730.
Whether you're putting in your first Wi-Fi network, moving up from b to g, or launching a hot spot, here are some options to consider:
OfficeConnect 11g Access Point
|Access point||802.11g||One-year warranty||$85 to $105|
54g Wireless Cable
DSL Gateway Router
|Router||802.11g||Four-port Ethernet switch, firewall, lifetime warranty||$113|
|Router||802.11g||Four-port Ethernet switch, firewall, two-year warranty||$99|
AirPlus Xtreme G Wireless
|Router||802.11g||Four-port Ethernet switch, firewall, three-year warranty||$99|
Wireless-G VPN Broadband
|Router||802.11g||Four-port Ethernet switch, firewall, three-year warranty||$199|
FWG114P ProSafe 802.11g Wireless
Firewall With USB Print Server
|Router||802.11g||Four-port Ethernet switch, firewall, three-year warranty, print server||$150 to $185|
Wireless Gateway AG-2000W
|Hot spot in a box||802.11a/g||Public access features, management software||$730|
2.4GHz 54Mbps Wireless
Broadband Router With USB
Print Server (SMC2804WBRP-G)
|Router||802.11g||Four-port Ethernet switch, firewall, lifetime warranty, USB print server||$130|