You have a few options in setting up a local area network (LAN) in an office or residence. You can focus on a wired ethernet-connected network or a wireless network. If the latter, please note you would still require a single ethernet (or RJ-45) connection to a modem, which then supplies the wireless connection to computers and devices in range.
There are pros and cons of ethernet vs wireless, but many offices use a hybrid approach, connecting computers and printers via ethernet wire connections, while also providing a wireless signal for laptops and devices.
In the home, most people just use a wireless connection, however for those who have more data-heavy needs, a hybrid approach may also be considered.
Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of ethernet and WiFi.
Typically the pros of being hard-wired are: Control, Security, and Speed.
You have more control over which devices access a wired network as they must be physically wired into a network. This physical connection can make the network more secure against hackers, malware, and viruses - although users can accidentally still invite such threats to a wired network by opening email threats etc.
In terms of speed, wired networks generally have a faster connection and are not likely to be impeded by “dark” interference areas in a building, as can wireless networks.
A wired connection also helps minimizes latency issues. Latency refers to how long it takes for data to travel between a source (a computer, gaming system, etc.) to its destination. This is referred to as a “ping” in networking and gaming circles. Where latency is slowed, the user experiences a perceivable delay or syncing issue.
Mobility is the number one drawback with wired networks. The freedom to operate a laptop or computer without being bound by a set location where you can plug in can be a hindrance.
Unsightly cable clutter is also something you do not have to contend with when you are on a wireless network, although there are ways to conceal cables around an office or residence for an additional cost.
Lastly, maintenance can be more of a hassle with wired networks. Software issues are easily diagnosed and solved via online checks and updates, however if a wired network develops an issue in the cabling or hardware, that may require IT know-how to isolate and resolve.
Mobility is a key benefit in using a WiFi network. WiFi allows you to use a laptop or device anywhere in a building or home providing the connection is strong enough in the particular location.
Wireless networks are easier to hack. This is due to the fact that data is sent via radio frequency technology to an access point (AP) that connects a computer or device to the internet. It is possible for third parties to intercept that data while it is travelling.
Speed and latency issues are also more of a problem when compared to a wired network. There is more of a chance for signal interference that can slow wireless communication.
As mentioned, many companies take a hybrid approach and make use of both wired and wireless connections. This allows control, security, and speed to be optimized for the business, as well as allowing the benefit of mobility for laptops and devices. Device access, or BYOD, is becoming increasingly popular as more and more employees use their smartphones, laptops, and tablets to do work. This makes the hybrid option more viable.
Additionally, maintaining a hard wired network for a business is advisable if your business has regulatory issues they need to be secure for as with the medical and financial fields.
In the home, it really comes down to user need. If there are people in the home gaming a lot or dealing with heavy file transfers, as with graphics work, a hard wired network is going to be superior to a wireless one. However, for general browsing and streaming requirements, a wireless network will suffice. So in the home, a hybrid network solution will work for some and be overkill for others.
Some networking requirements need to be more rugged-ready for harsher environments, which may include moisture exposure. To learn about waterproof requirements for ethernet, please see our post Waterproof Connectors.
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