We've come to take for granted the idea of being able to surf the web using a wireless hotspot or 3G dongle, but setting up a home Wi-Fi network is quite another matter. PC Advisor assesses the latest routers, and offers practical buying advice.

Going wireless is a popular option these days. Tangles of wires and trailing cables are not only unsightly - they are unnecessary now that so many products can be made to work without them.

For those that prefer to do so, it's possible to go the ethernet route and use HomePlug units that offer a physical wired connection and make use of the electrical circuit embedded in your home. However, this can be expensive: you need a £60 plug - and an available mains socket - for every item, whereas you can connect five or six devices at once to a wireless network.

All you need is for them to have a wireless radio and to be compatible with one of the versions of wireless your router supports.

This bit is where Wi-Fi can get confusing. There are several versions of Wi-Fi, labelled 802.11a, b, g and now n. Version a is quick but has a range of just a few metres; b is slower wih better range.

Wireless g combines the best of both, but it still isn't able to transfer enough data at once to send video around the home. The g standard is fast enough to stream music from one device to another, however, which is why there are now so many audio products designed to let you stash your music collection on a device in one room and enjoy it from another.

Wireless g products are also fine for accessing documents, including photos.

If you're connected to your home network via a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop that uses the 802.11g standard, getting online to surf the web, update your Facebook status, view Flickr galleries, send instant messages and check email will all be feasible. You should also be able to make decent-quality VoIP (broadband-based) phone calls.

If this is all you're likely to want from your Wi-Fi setup, an 802.11g network will be fine. If you've got some wireless products that are labelled g and others that are marked a or b, you'll notice a slowdown when using them.

That's because the network can only perform at the rate of the slowest element. If you've got a sluggish 802.11g network, it may be a legacy peripheral that's causing the hold-up, rather than the network itself.

NEXT PAGE: network feng shui

PAGE LINKS:

  1. The top 8 802.11n routers revealed
  2. Network feng shui
  3. Tricky setup
  4. Wi-Fi routers reviewed

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We've come to take for granted the idea of being able to surf the web using a wireless hotspot or 3G dongle, but setting up a home Wi-Fi network is quite another matter. PC Advisor assesses the latest routers, and offers practical buying advice.

Wi-Fi routers: Network feng shui

The siting of your wireless network can affect the speed, too. One of the reasons HomePlug devices appeal is that they can be used in locations that wireless radio waves can't reach.

There are ways around Wi-Fi ‘deadspots', but in essence you should limit the number of walls the signal needs to pass through and raise the wireless router's antenna so it's clear of electrical interference from the back of your PC, wall sockets, live wiring and other gadgetry.

One of the reasons 802.11g and the newest 802.11n products can achieve much greater speeds and data throughput rates is that they have more than one antenna. A setup known as multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) magnifies the wireless signal. Switching antennae (often, these can be unscrewed from the router and replaced with a more sensitive one) can also improve Wi-Fi strength and therefore performance.

It used to be the case that you needed to buy wireless network kit from the same brand to ensure compatibility. This is no longer the case - one of the benefits of the 802.11n standard is that you should be able to use hardware from different manufacturers interchangeably.

Another factor that will influence your wireless experience is prioritisation of traffic. A feature known as quality of service (QoS) allows you to specify and prioritise voice traffic for VoIP phone calls - or give preferential treatment to online gaming, video downloads or whatever.

While the latest n Wi-Fi standard is yet to be ratified, it's so far advanced that this is now just a formality. The standard sorts out many of the issues about security and Wi-Fi ‘spill'. Wireless n products can work in the unused (in the UK) 5GHz radio spectrum, as well as using the 2.4GHz frequency, and are closed off from neighbouring networks.

Clever new ways of viewing and authenticating items on a network make logging on more secure and more intuitive, too. You should no longer need to enter a 32-character string, but also won't be able to bypass the login screen. Look for symbols on the router's box or in its feature set offering Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). This offers superior encryption and security to Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP).

All this means you should end up with a faster, safer network that your neighbours can't accidentally piggyback.

NEXT PAGE: tricky setup

PAGE LINKS:

  1. The top 8 802.11n routers revealed
  2. Network feng shui
  3. Tricky setup
  4. Wi-Fi routers reviewed

Visit Broadband Advisor for the latest internet news, reviews, tips & tricks - and to take advantage of PC Advisor's unique, independent Broadband Speed Tester

Visit Digital World for the latest home entertainment and digital audio news and reviews

We've come to take for granted the idea of being able to surf the web using a wireless hotspot or 3G dongle, but setting up a home Wi-Fi network is quite another matter. PC Advisor assesses the latest routers, and offers practical buying advice.

Wi-Fi routers: Tricky setup

However, networking products is still far from the straightforward process it ought to be. This is partly the fault of manufacturers. Coming from a technical background, they offer all sorts of configuration options and bamboozle users with acronyms. While some newer models are less guilty of this and can be set up by technophobes, too many are simply packaged to appear that way.

So, while choosing a suitable Wi-Fi router is no longer the minefield it once was, setting it up can still be a trial.

Wi-Fi house

NEXT PAGE: Wi-Fi routers reviewed

PAGE LINKS:

  1. The top 8 802.11n routers revealed
  2. Network feng shui
  3. Tricky setup
  4. Wi-Fi routers reviewed

Visit Broadband Advisor for the latest internet news, reviews, tips & tricks - and to take advantage of PC Advisor's unique, independent Broadband Speed Tester

Visit Digital World for the latest home entertainment and digital audio news and reviews

We've come to take for granted the idea of being able to surf the web using a wireless hotspot or 3G dongle, but setting up a home Wi-Fi network is quite another matter. PC Advisor assesses the latest routers, and offers practical buying advice.

Wi-Fi routers reviewed

PAGE LINKS:

  1. The top 8 802.11n routers revealed
  2. Network feng shui
  3. Tricky setup
  4. Wi-Fi routers reviewed

Visit Broadband Advisor for the latest internet news, reviews, tips & tricks - and to take advantage of PC Advisor's unique, independent Broadband Speed Tester

Visit Digital World for the latest home entertainment and digital audio news and reviews