February 19, 2013

Sharpening the Digital Saw: Wi-Fi and LAN

By: Peter Ildefonso

For the modern generation of young professionals, sometimes referred to by veteran Technology experts as “digital natives,” the internet seems like such an obvious first step for getting work done. Within a professional environment, how you connect to the internet can be very different from anything you have used in your previous experiences. Knowing the difference between these connections and how they work can quickly differentiate you from even tenured employees.

Outside of work environments, Wi-Fi has become almost a standard for connecting to the internet. Most workplaces, houses, and public places of business use Wi-Fi exclusively. The connection for Wi-Fi is simple for most users. They use their own laptop or device to connect to the Wi-Fi network and any issues that are encountered are up to the user to troubleshoot. The connection to the internet comes into a building by a variety of means, but it usually ends up plugged into a wireless router, which broadcasts the Wi-Fi network to the surrounding area. The router is usually one that is included with the payment to the internet provider, it is set up by the individual who installed the actual internet connection, and it is a low budget device. As long as you have a few users, doing a few tasks, and not moving data around, this connection is fast enough, but there are some alternatives that become necessary for companies to deploy.

The most obvious alternative is a better wireless router. Of the hundreds of routers to choose from, it is the high end, top of the line routers that are going to eliminate many slow and dropped connection issues. Setting these up has become easier in the last few years as router companies have moved into the mainstream. A great router can go for $300 to $400 dollars and can last years with high levels of performance. This will work well for most small teams and those who have a highly used personal system. Many small companies use this system, but some make the mistake of thinking this system can be highly functional with more than five or ten users. For a larger company, a different connection is needed.

LAN or Ethernet connection is a fully hardware based internet connection solution. The wire that runs into a wireless router to be broadcast out in the form of Wi-Fi, can also be plugged directly into your computer or into a system that creates many wired connections. These systems require a physical wire to be plugged into your computer. The benefits of this system are an increased connection speed and a large increase in security. While Wi-Fi can have high speeds, many common usage and private routers we discussed earlier are going to run at 10MB/s, but the wired Ethernet system is much higher at 100 or 1000 MB/s.  A quick example: if the workplace has a 100MB/s connection to the internet, and ten people are connecting to a wireless router that only connects at 10MB/s, then that company is going to have a large drag on connection speed and productivity. A wired connection can deliver the true 100MB/s connection to all of those connected.

In addition to these speed benefits, the ability of a malicious user accessing your network through an Ethernet system is more difficult. A physical network is more secure by the nature of an individual having to connect physically to the system. The wired connection can also connect to a server system that can make automated backups, virus protection, and network attached storage available.  These networks are becoming less common at home and at universities, so young professional’s exposure to them is becoming more of a company liability with each year. Learning how to use both of these connections is a simple way to become more technologically inclined in your workplace.


Peter Ildefonso IV Leadership Institute Technology Support Technician