Let's dive into something a little more complex. What if you have a wired network already, and you're quite happy with the way it performs - you see no point in dismantling it and making it wireless when it works fine as it is. You've got this laptop, though, that you'd really like to use wirelessly. Basically, what you want to do is make a wireless connection to a wired network. This is often referred to as a network bridge.
As luck would have it, there's a very easy way to do exactly what you want. It's called a wireless access point.
If you've got a lot of computers (on an office network, for example) and you can't switch them all over to wireless networking at once, installing a wireless router is a good way of doing it bit-by-bit. Once the router is part of the network, you could just remove one network wire per day or per week, replacing it with a wireless connection.
Hardware and Software Requirements
There are two kinds of wireless access points: software and hardware ones. Wireless access point software runs on one of the computers on the wired network, and lets wireless devices connect to the network through that computer (the computer must obviously be wireless-enabled).
You can get wireless access software easily - doing a web search will give you plenty of choices. Look for one that's open source, as you will be able to download it straightaway for free without breaking any laws. Unfortunately, though, the wireless devices will only be connected to the network while the computer in question is turned on and connected itself.
Hardware access points, on the other hand, are standalone devices that can be plugged in anywhere on the network - you can either buy a dedicated access point, or convert an old computer to act as one and do nothing else. They connect to the wired network just as a normal computer would, except that they offer access to the network to any wireless receivers within range.
You can leave hardware access points connected to your network and turned on all the time, if you want. An advantage of dedicated devices is that they generally have a greater range, letting you use your wireless devices further away from the access point than you could with a software access point. Dedicated devices can be expensive, though - prices are roughly similar to wireless routers.
How Wireless Access Points Work
An access point sends requests for data on behalf of the wireless devices connected to it. In this way, it works a lot like a wireless router: basically, a wireless access point is to a wired LAN as a wireless router is to the Internet. The difference, though, is that the devices connected through an access point actually become part of the LAN - other computers on the LAN won't distinguish between the wired computers and the wireless ones.
This is powerful, as it gives you the capability to dynamically extend your wired LAN, without wires. In theory, there shouldn't be anything you can currently do over your wired network that you won't be able to do over the wireless extension to it.
Configuring a Wireless Access Point
You can usually configure a wireless access point as easily as plugging it into a connection to your network, using the cable that should be included. Your network should see the access point and give it a networking (IP) address automatically. If you need to do any more configuration on your access point - for example, turning on wireless encryption - then you'll need to open your access point's settings.
You can do this by going to the router's IP address in your web browser. If you're not sure how to do this, refer to your access point's manual (you might have better luck reading the online version, which will be updated with the latest problems people are having). While you're playing with your access point's settings, you might find it worth disabling DHCP (dynamic network addressing) and giving your access point a static address instead. This helps to keep your wired network more stable.
Researched, and Written by Tony Fitz of EntireWeb
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