All about networking. That “and anything else we can think of.”
I was asked to recommend a “Wi-Fi Router”. Unfortunately, that is not a simple question because it has implied assumptions that further complicate it.
So we start with the two primary types of networking, point to point and broadcast.
The original “networks” were store and forward point to point. A “message” was created on computer A. Computer A would use a point-to-point connection to transmit the message to computer B. Computer B would store that message until it connected via a point-to-point connection to computer C, wherein it would transmit the message that it had stored to computer C.
These original connections were most often done by “dial up” connections. A “modem” was used to convert digital signals to audio signals. A computer would tell the modem to dial a number, the modem at the other end would answer. The two modems would whistle at each other and communications would begin.
Conceptually, we could consider three different things to be one long piece of wire. The two modems and the telephone system make a long wire. The ability to call different computers is the same as moving the far end of the cable to a different computer.
When computers dedicated more than one port to communications, it became possible to talk to multiple computers at the same time. A computer could be receiving a message from Computer A, while sending a different message to Computer C. Everything was still store and forward.
We then created dedicated computers that had many ports. This allowed that computer to receive and transmit to multiple devices at the other end of the point-to-point connections. We labeled this a “switch”.
We then created a protocol that allowed for a fixed address for every communications port. We then set our “switch” to transmit every message (packet) it received to all other connections. This was our first “broadcast” network.
Each communication port received all messages. Even those that were not intended for that port. Because each packet had a destination address and a source address, the port could just ignore all messages not intended for it.
Later, we developed a method where we could share a single wire with multiple communications ports attached to that single wire. A message sent on the wire was received by every port that was attached to that wire.
All of this describes a Local Area Network, or LAN.
Routers and IP
A LAN has a limited size. The protocol run on the LAN determines how big it can be. Size is actual measured in time from transmitting a packet to the time it is received by every computer on the LAN.
To allow networks to grow larger than a single LAN, we layered another address system on each packet. Besides the link address, we now have an IP address. Conceptually, each LAN is given a range of IP addresses.
We now add a new device, a router. A router connects to two networks. Either by being part of two LANs, or a LAN and a point-to-point connection to a remote computer. The router has a “routing table”. When a packet arrives addressed to the router at a link level, it checks the destination IP address. From that, it decides which port it should transmit on.
A router “routes” packets from one network to another.
All routers have multiple communication ports. The bigger the router, the more communication ports it will have.
We have now discussed, “switches”, and “routers”. The next part is the “modem”. A modem is a “modulator, demodulator” and was originally used to convert digital signals to audio signals. We use the term, today, to include DSL and Cable modems. There is a similar device that converts electric signals to light signals to be able to use fiber optics.
To get a device in your home connected to the Internet, you need a communication sport in your device. We’ll use a computer and an Ethernet connection. You use a cable to connect that to a switch. The household router is also attached to that switch. The router is then connected to your “modem”, that modem is connected to a physical line which is connected to your service provider.
Wireless Access Points
If you want to use wireless devices, you need to have an “access point” which is connected to a switch. If there is a router attached to the same network, then your wireless device will be able to communicate with that router and the Internet.
The question I was originally asked was “Can you recommend a good Wi-Fi Router?” You will notice that there is no “Wi-Fi Router” listed in the devices I described.
The “correct” method is to get a device that does one thing very well, and use that device to do that job. For me, that is a fiber optic “modem” provided by my service provider. It costs me nothing extra and is a technology I am barely familiar with.
That modem is connected via a cat-6 Ethernet cable to my Ubiquiti Router. That router has 5 ports on it. Each port can act independently. In this case, I took the other four ports and told my router to turn them into a switch.
From the four internal ports, 1 goes to my primary distribution switch, one goes to a printer and one to some other device. I’m not looking right now.
The ONLY reason I used those ports as a switch is because the printer sits right next to the router. There was no reason to run a cable to the primary switch and then back to the printer.
From the primary switch, cables run to two secondary switches. One of those secondary switches is connected to an Ubiquiti Access Point at the south end of the house. The other is connected to a different Ubiquiti Access Point at the north end of the house.
With the addition of a bit of software, those two access points can seamlessly transfer wireless devices from one device to the other as people move around the house. Using the tools provided, I know that I should add another access point in the center of the house.
Those access points work together so that they do not interfere with each other.
You can go online and buy a “wireless router” for under 40 dollars. The router will combine a switch, a router, and an access point in one device.
Consider that for a moment, That’s around $10 per device.
Now these combo items can cost a bit more. Up to $250 is what I’m seeing on Amazon.
I want you to consider the following, would you rather be working on your rifle with a set of high-end gunsmithing screwdrivers, or would you rather just use your Leatherman/Gerber multi-tool?
I can get it done with my Gerber. I’ll use my gunsmithing tools instead, thank you very much.
It is the same with network gear.
You can pick up an Ubiquiti access point for around $150. You can get the older ER-X router for under $60. You’ll need to have a computer to configure the Access points. I don’t remember if the router is plug and play.
The Router has a web interface that allows you to use a wizard to configure everything you need to configure.
You can then connect your modem to the router and the world will be good. If at some time you want to improve your wireless service, you can add more access points.
Finally, Ubiquiti access points can be used outside. Some require cover from direct elements, some do not.
The Power of Professional Equipment
This image shows the type of interference we have at the house. One of the things that should be obvious is that the 2.4Ghz ban is crowded compared to the 5Ghz band. This is misleading.
5Ghz is faster. More things also block it. This means that when you have good signal, you have fast access, but that signal will deteriorate rapidly as you move out of the room where the Access Point is located.
In a business or school situation, we might put an access point in every room. We then turn of the 2.5Ghz radios and only allow the 5Ghz radios. Now we have greatly reduced the levels of interference while potentially kicking some older devices off the net.
If we are concerned about that issue, we turn on the 2.4Ghz radios on some of the Access points.
If you would like to do it right, get the Ubiquiti gear. You will not go wrong with it in terms of quality. If you need help with designing a network, feel free to reach out to me. If you require somebody to configure your network once you have the pieces in hand, again, reach out to me.