Laptop connected to a NAS

Computer Network for small offices

by Angus Jones

Chances are you have a network at home but you don’t understand what you have. In this case we are referring to a computer network.  Let’s chat about the different types and factors you should consider in making your decisions.

A computer network or data network is a set of computer or network devices connected together to share resources. This is how we allow several devices to connect to the internet in our offices or at home. Other shared resources can include a printer or a file server. Devices we may find connected on a network might include PCs, notebooks, tablets, mobile phones, printers, surveillance cameras, smart devices, NAS shared storage, a backup device, POS terminals, and EFTPOS terminals.

WHY do I need a computer network?

It makes a lot of sense to be able to share resources.  Without a network you might need a printer on everyone’s desk. A network will enable everyone to have the internet and collaborate on shared documents or files.

WHAT are the components of a computer network?

Clients – devices we connect to the network that share the resources, for example, a PC or tablet connecting to a shared printer.

Wi-Fi Modem Router – This can be all in one box or separate devices.  If these are separate devices you would connect them to each other by an ethernet cable.

  • Modem – This is the device that connects to the Internet from the street. Most likely it is the box provided by the NBN to connect to the NBN internet network.
  • Router – you must have at least one router.  It is a cross between a traffic cop and a power board.  It takes one internet connection and turns it into many, directing the traffic around your internal network to make all the magic happen.
  • Wi-Fi access point – If you don’t want to run ethernet cables you can connect your devices by wi-fi. This makes everything wireless except for electricity.  A wi-fi point does have a limit on how many devices can connect, how far they can be from the access point, and the speed the data can be transferred.  Thus is convenient but maybe not as reliable.

Ethernet Cable – this is a physical cable that will connect your various devices so they can talk to one another.  An ethernet cable could run to your PC then to the router then the router to a printer thus allowing you to print. An electrician may run cables in ducts or behind walls so your office does not have visible wires running everywhere.  An ethernet cable has the advantage of being a more reliable and faster connection.

Switch – Your router is likely to have a small switch in the back allowing multiple ethernet cables to be attached.  Also, you may have additional switches to give you additional ports to connect more devices via ethernet cables (think of it like how a power board gives you more sockets)

Transfer speed on your network is shown as Mbps (mega bits per second). The bigger the number the better. As with any system the speed is governed by the weakest link which can be your internet plan speed, your method of transfer being wi-fi or ethernet cable, or the devices such as the router which the data transfers through. Most modern products are designed to support up to 1Gbps (1000 Mbps). In summary, speed is how fast you can transfer a file from A to B.

HOW to make your own network – Which Wi-Fi (wireless) Modem Router?

Without a doubt, the easiest, most economical, and fastest way to get up and running is to buy a wireless router. It will enable you to have a connection with both wi-fi and ethernet cable.  Before you go out and buy one you need to understand the options and features:

  • Mesh Network – This is a recent wireless networking architecture that allows you to gain greater coverage by offering the main router and a satellite unit.  The wi-fi network name remains the same and as you walk around your premises with your device connected wirelessly the connection will be seamlessly handed between the satellite and the main unit dependant which has better signal strength.  This is a more reliable way of offering greater coverage in a larger area.  Some units also use a dedicated wi-fi channel to ensure the best possible speed to the satellite.
  • Wireless extender – This is an optional extra device. As the wireless signal has a limited range you can use an extender box to increase the distance away from the original wi-fi router.  Note that an extender will require you to connect to a different wi-fi network name and enter a password.
  • 2.4Ghz vs 5Ghz –Ghz (gigahertz) refers to the radio frequency.  A 2.4Ghz connection will travel further and better through walls but at a slower speed. 5Ghz will be faster but not have a good range (distance between PC and wi-fi router) and cannot support as many connections per channel.  A dual-band router would normally mean 1 x 2.4GHz and 1 x 5Ghz channels available to connect to.
  • Processor and Ram – Remember we talked about a router being like a traffic cop.  Well the stronger and more intelligent the router is the better it will handle moving all the traffic around. You should choose a device with a multi-core processor and a quantity of RAM for example, 128MB
  • Wi-Fi router speed – Be aware the top speed quoted on the carton is theoretical and you are unlikely to duplicate it in real life.  If speed is a primary concern you should use an Ethernet cable to connect to your wireless router.
  • Smartphone App – Networking has traditionally been the domain of experts.  However most modern units are easy to be set up and can easily be monitored and controlled from a smartphone app.
  • USB port – allows direct connection of a hard drive, printer or back up modem
  • VPN – a feature on high-end routers that allow you to set up a secure connection remotely (from home) back into your office environment.
  • Security – common on all routers that by default ensures only those with the appropriate passwords and permissions can connect to your network or devices on your network.  You don’t want your competitor stealing all your ideas by simply parking their car out the front.

HINTS – 3 Tips to help with your setup

  1. Some form of mobile phone modem is a great backup to keep your business running if the fixed service goes down (some internet providers offer this as standard in their package).
  2. Be sure to read our essential guide on Backing up your Data.  Always back up your data and store it at a secure external location.
  3. Be forward-thinking – Buy quality hardware that will last for many years and allow for expansion in your business when you implement your network. For example, if you get an electrician in to do some ethernet cabling, maybe get some extra points installed.

SUMMARY – Visit Gadget Guy for the latest products

A good quality mesh wi-fi router will meet most small business needs and give you a simple and reliable way to share.

If you require something more complicated or you simply need help be sure to read our essential guide on IT Support.

Our sister publication Gadget Guy has reviews of the latest products to suit your small business. They also have more information on the technology

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