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Planning Retirement Online

50plus Handyman  

October 2006

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The handyman column    
By Roger Runswick

Home Networking

50plus Handyman director Roger Runswick advises on when and how to go wireless

It's probably an unnoticed phenomenon, but I'd place a reasonable bet that the number of wired telephone extensions being installed has dropped dramatically over the last few years, and many existing ones are no longer used. The reason is that telephone extensions have been swapped from wired to wireless.

The one thing that held this trend back was dial-up Internet, as we needed to connect computers. Now around three-quarters of Internet users have swapped dial-up for broadband and many have gone wireless, so the ubiquitous extension has declined in popularity again.

But is it quite like the suppliers would have us believe (images of working away under the apple tree come to mind)? Well, no actually. Like many things technical, it's not quite as straightforward as it seems. And like all things wireless, there is the usual element of luck involved. Put simply, it doesn't always work. So why not and what should be planned?

Wireless is a technology that depends on the propagation of radio waves. Radio waves are affected by building infrastructure, interference from other equipment and, if working at the equipment's limit, that great British variable the weather. As anyone with a modern wireless home ‘phone knows, digital signals don't degrade naturally like the old analogue ones; they either work or they don't. So couple that with the propagation issue, and you find that your computer will work one side of a wall but not always the other, depending on useful variables like which day of the week it is, and the barometric pressure.

So there is still a strong argument for good old wires. Not any old wires of course, but those that can carry the most common computer linking standard called Ethernet, still usual in offices. We know running cable is not easy (involving, as it does, taking up carpets and similar fun activities) but once installed the service is reliable. Often the simplest method to run a cable is to route it outside then back in again. With the appropriate-coloured cable, it's barely noticeable and incidentally perfectly safe.

So which way to go? It really depends on circumstances. A mix of wireless and cables is often the pragmatic way forward. If wireless prevents cables having to run across a room, then it is likely to be the better solution. If you are a home worker wanting to work in a garden office, then a good test is to try a DECT digital telephone.

Put the base station where the wireless hub will be and take a handset to the garden office. If the signals not 100% solid, then seriously consider cabling the computer connection, there's nothing worse than intermittent web access.

Many homes now require multiple computer connections, so if in doubt get some advice. Home networking is not for the faint hearted PC user (all those who selected Apple Macs sit back and gloat at this point). Radio does make it easier, but it also introduces another set of variables into the equation, so if something isn't working test from a cabled access point first.

NB. During the writing of this article DSG (formally Dixons) announced the start of a technical support service which will create up to 2,000 jobs. The company plans to invest ?50m over five years on the new service, which will be called "The Techguys". DSG said eight out of 10 people in the UK need help with hi-tech goods. Probably says it all, doesn't it?
Roger Runswick is a director of 50plus Handyman and a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. He can be contacted at .

Previous articles in this series:


Fixing drips and changing your taps

Can I still change my light switch?

Fitting an outside light

Pre-winter maintenance

Thinking of installing a shower?

Decorating – are you getting your money’s worth?

Estimate or quotation?

Replacing a door?

How to upgrade the lighting in your home

Creating a cloakroom and shower

Ideas for collecting and saving water

Power in the garden

Plumbing and bats

Busman's holidays

Home Networking


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