How to Set Up a Home Office Network Part 2: Getting Connected – A Visual Guide

There are a lot of ways to set up a network. How you do it depends on how many devices you want to connect, what they do, and where they are in relation to each other.

In this article, I am going to give several scenarios with visual guides. I will start with the simplest scenario and gradually add devices and functionality. This should help you understand how networks are built and what equipment is necessary to achieve your goals.

Scenario 1: Connecting One Computer to the Internet

In this simple scenario you need:

  • Broadband Modem – This is often provided by the ISP and may be called a gateway or router.
  • Cable – Network Cable (RJ-45) is the most common cable to use, but in a single computer setup USB cable may also be an option depending on the Broadband Modem. (See What Types of Cables Do You Need? below for a visual guide to cables.)
  • Network Interface Card (NIC) – An RJ-45 network port is built into most new computers and laptops. If yours does not have one, you need a NIC which costs around $20.00. If your computer does not have a NIC you may have the option to use a USB connection.

Scenario 2: Connecting Multiple Computers or Devices


In this scenario you need:

  • Broadband Modem
  • Cable – Network Cable (RJ-45)
  • Switch/Hub – These are devices that allow multiple devices to connect to a network. Switches and hubs perform the same function of connecting multiple devices. Switches are generally more expensive then hubs, but they are smarter than hubs, perform much better and are the recommended equipment.
  • Network Interface Cards (NIC) for each device

Scenario 3: Connecting Multiple Computers with Wireless


In this scenario you need:

  • Broadband Modem
  • Cable – Network Cable (RJ-45) – Optional
  • Combined Switch/Router/Wireless Access Point (WAP) – These are devices that combine the functionality of a switch, a router and a Wireless Access Point. They are a very cost effective way of building a small wireless network. This is the recommended configuration for a new network. If you are adding wireless to an existing wired network, you can buy a standalone WAP that will be connected to the wired switch with network cable.
  • Wired or Wireless Network Interface Cards (NIC) for each device depending on connection type. Many (but not all) new laptops have wireless network cards built-in.

Scenario 4: Adding VoIP to an existing Network

  • Broadband Modem
  • VoIP device – Voice over Internet (Protocol). This is a very inexpensive way to get phone service in your home office. (see our resource directory for more info)
  • Cable – Network Cable (RJ-45) – Optional
  • Combined Switch/Router/Wireless Access Point
  • Wired or Wireless Network Interface Cards (NIC) for each device depending on connection type. Many (but certainly not all) new laptops have wireless network cards built-in.

What Types of Cables Do You Need?

  • Network Cable – Also known as Cat5, ethernet cable, or RJ-45. This is the cable that carries most network signals in a local network. The connector looks like an oversize phone jack and each cable holds 8 wires.
  • USB Cable – In some cases, if you are connecting a single computer directly to a broadband modem, you can use a USB cable. The boxy type B end plugs into the modem and the flatter type A end connects to the computer.
  • Phone Cable – Also known as RJ-11. This is the cable you use to plug in your phone. This type of connector may fit into a network jack but it will not work. Phone cable is only used to connect your phone to a VoIP adaptor.

What Kind of Wireless Do You Need?

There are several flavors of wireless equipment available when you build your home office wireless network. These wireless types are denoted with the IEEE designation of 802.11 and a letter – A, B, G, or Draft-N. Generally, all of these flavors fall under the popular nickname Wi-Fi. Here is a brief explanation of each specification and a recommendation for what you should buy now.

802.11a – Speeds up to 54 Mbs, generally more expensive and harder to find. This is not recommended for a home office even if you can find it.

802.11b – Speeds up to 11 Mbs, this was the first popular wireless standard. It has been overshadowed by 802.11g in recent years because of G’s greater speed and range, but equipment can still be found at bargain prices in many places.

802.11g – Speeds up to 54 Mbs, this is the current standard in Wi-Fi networking. 802.11g has great advantages over 802.11b in terms of speed and range. Most Wireless G equipment is backwards compatible with 802.11b equipment and you may see some equipment with the explicit 802.11b/g designation to show this. 802.11g equipment can be found at good price points and is recommended for most people setting up a network today. At some point in 2007, this recommendation may change.

Draft-802.11n – Speeds up to 108Mbs, As of January 25, 2007, 802.11n is not a fully approved specification. It will/should become fully approved in the next couple months. In the meantime you may see equipment denoted as “pre-N”, “draft-N” or “MIMO”. Manufacturers have been selling pre-N equipment for over a year, with the assumption that their execution of it will become the new standard. If you buy any N designated equipment today, you will need to upgrade when 802.11n is officially approved. Depending on the equipment you purchase, this upgrade process may or may not be possible with a simple software fix and may require the purchase of additional or replacement hardware. If you are comfortable with the risk of upgrades or need the ability to stream video today, you may decide to go with a draft-N product.

Other Wireless Enhancements
In addition to B, G and N specifications you may see additional designations such as “Speedbooster”, “Super G”, “Xtreme” etc. These designations mark technological tricks used by manufactures to squeeze more performance out of an official 802.11x specification. Under most circumstances, you must match up the manufacture of the WAP/Router/Switch with the NIC to achieve these added performance levels. If you mix and match equipment from different manufactures you will likely see the standard performance (or less).

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