This writeup is inspired by the remote geek consulting I’m doing for my sweetie while she’s visiting Mom and trying to bring her Mom’s computing platform and infrastructure up to speed. Here I will review the basics of a good home network with some solid and useful upgrades for certain purposes.
For simplicity I’m just going to talk about high speed connections. Dialup connections work in a similar way but not exactly and I don’t want to get mired in too many clarifications. For purposes of this discussion, high speed Internet connections can be DSL/ADSL, Cable, Fiber or Satellite (e.g. Direct TV).
The barest minimum, if it’s just a single person and her one desktop computer, for almost any conventional, consumer-based high speed internet connection (ADSL, DSL, Cable and – sort of – dialup connections) is a modem. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will generally provide you the incoming cable (a phone cable for DSL/ADSL, a coaxial cable for high speed internet over cable). Depending on your arrangement, you will either own your own modem or your ISP will own it and lease it to you. And you usually have to provide a cable to connect the modem to your computer.
Geek Aside: Modem used to be spelled MoDem and stood for Modulator-Demodulator. A modem’s sole responsibility is to translate the ISP’s wide-area network protocols and traffic to your more consumer-oriented Internet Protocol (IP) traffic. In practical terms, its real job is to translate your connection into a usable IP address. For the simplest setup, that IP address is what your computer uses. In later more complex setups, the router uses that IP address and your house network uses a range of private IP addresses that your router manages.
If you set up a connection like this, beware that your computer is directly exposed to the hazards of the wide open Internet. So many people choose to add a router. A router not only lets you share your connection with more than one computer, but it also provides a couple few extra layers of security and efficiency to the network (e.g. ACL, Firewall, NAT, port forwarding, UPnP, DNS centralization, DHCP, etc.).
Here’s a simple diagram of the same setup but with a router:
Be aware that you can sometimes find combination modem-routers. If you use one of those, the two roles would be in the same box. But logically it works to keep them separate, because they’re separate roles.
I’m also going to skip discussion of configuration of the router, assuming that I’ll have time to address it at a later date. For now if you were to take the default settings, your router will be reasonably secure and so will your home network. There are ways to make that better, including the good advice to change your router’s password, but you can find those on Google just as well as anyone else.
Now as soon as you add a router, you have the ability to share that Internet connection with more than one computer.
But the other thing that a lot of people choose to do is that they make the router or a device connected to the router, provide wireless connections to the router. Routers are often dual purpose and provide this wireless connection, but it’s also possible to set up a Wireless Access Point (WAP) separately, so since I broke out the modem and the router, I’ll break out the WAP too in this diagram.
So as you can see, the basic components (beyond the computers) of any home network are:
- The Internet Service Provider (ISP)
- The Modem
- The Router
- The Wireless Access Point (WAP)
Keep this in mind if you end up responsible for designing or creating a home network. It may help you keep all the components straight.