If you’ve looked at network components lately, you might have noticed that while wireless network adapters are cheap, wireless routers aren’t. Thankfully, wireless networking technology can connect up to dozens of computers together in an ad-hoc network, without the hassle of cabling or the cost of a router.
This type of network functions just like a wired “mesh,” where every computer is directly connected to every other computer. In an ad hoc network, computers connect wirelessly and automatically, providing the benefits of file, printer, and Internet sharing without a router.
Once you’ve installed your network cards, go to your Network Connections (found in the Control Panel) and open your wireless connection’s properties. Select the Wireless Networks tab and, if no wireless networks exist, click Add and name your new connection. When checking wireless networks on other computers, the connection you’ve created should show up with a card icon next to it. If it’s not at the top of the Preferred Networks list, move the connection up the list.
With Windows XP, folders and printers can be shared easily through your ad hoc network, but a major reason users network their computers is to share an Internet connection. With a computer already connected to the Internet, this is easy as well.
Make sure the computer with an Internet connection is on the ad hoc network, go to the wired Internet connection’s Advanced tab and check “Allow other computers to connect through this computer’s Internet connection.” Restart the other computers and they should all have Internet access.
Enabling the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) is a good idea for ease and simplicity. Non-Microsoft firewalls might not like other computers using your Internet connection, and additional configuration might be needed.
Data encryption (under the wireless network’s properties) should also be enabled to improve security on your network. The network key settings are proprietary; check the network card’s documentation for information on the settings. It’s important to know that with data encryption enabled, actual connection speeds will be cut in half.
One of the biggest problems with wireless networking is signal attenuation, or the loss of signal from interference; too many walls between computers may result in poor or nonexistent connections. The obvious solution is to move the computers closer together, but if that’s infeasible or undesirable, the user may want to consider getting a Cantenna, a simple piece of equipment that greatly enhances a wireless signal.
Ad hoc networking also uses more overhead to make its connections than those made by a router. For small networks this isn’t a problem, but very large ones may experience considerable slowdown.
And if sharing an Internet connection, the online computer must be turned on for others to access the ‘Net.
Despite its flaws, ad hoc networking gives the budget-conscious user an easy alternative to getting a wireless router. For many homes, this can be an ideal way to avoid the cost of a wireless router and the clutter of a wired network.