WiFi Network Equipment Components

Technology retail store shelves offer a wide variety of network equipment
If you go into any large technology retail store, you'll find shelves loaded with various types of network equipment. As of this writing in 2009, the industry has reached general agreement on several of the names that they apply to the most important of these items, based on either formal or informal definitions of functions.

Although you can still find single-function boxes for sale on the store shelves, Most of today's most modern equipment combines several separate functions into multiple-purpose boxes. Nevertheless,  it's easier to understand the situation if we first think about simple, single-function devices of the type that were popular several years ago.  To keep things simple while we lay the foundation for greater things to come, let's first consider the ISP connection and four single-function devices that constitute the "WiFi Distribution" equipment, constituting 5 separate logical entities, forming the central basis of a small office.

If you bought a new, WiFi-equipped Laptop or Netbook computer that works at WiFi "hotspots" in hotels, restaurants, and airports, you might want to use it at home. This is the stuff you think of when you ask "What would I need to set up in my house in order to use my new WiFi Laptop to connect to the Internet?" Functionally, you'll need an Internet connection and 4 additional modules, for a total of 5 components as follows:

  1. Internet Connection (From an Internet Service Provider)
  2. Broadband Modem
  3. Router
  4. Ethernet Switch
  5. Wireless Access Point

Functionally, those 5 basic components are interconnected like this:

Beyond that basic WiFi Distribution equipment, each computer wishing wireless access will need the 6th single-function module of this set: a "Wireless Network Adapter" or "Wireless Network Card". Most computers built since about 2007 have that adapter built-in, but older or less sophisticated PCs will need to use some kind of "add-on" WiFi adapter.

Each of these functional devices is discussed in greater detail on the next page: