The cell phones are getting smarter and broadband connections are getting cheaper and better. But did you miss something on the way? While everybody is talking of video clips, songs and FM radio on mobile handsets, the simple fact is that Internet access on handheld devices is only a limited convenience on the move.
But home is where the fun surfing is (unless you are in a lucky office where everything is possible – including free time!). Most Indians who can afford a personal computer and an Internet connection still do so in a corner of the house, probably the bedroom.
Perhaps it is time to liberate yourself, if you have not been smart enough to look at the smaller advertisements in newspapers and get the message. It is possible to get wireless Internet of decent speed and bandwidth at home through relatively inexpensive devices that can help you get more bang for the broadband buck.
While Airtel, Reliance, Tata Indicom, BSNL and MTNL offer increasingly cheaper broadband connections with good access (few speak of anything less than 256 kilobits per second these days), by plugging a home gateway box, you can roam the house with your laptop, easily move your desktop away from where the cable lands and can even share a single Internet connection between family members —say student kids. The same principles can apply for a small-office-home-office (SOHO). You can wirelessly link some terminals and avoid tripping over wires or tying yourself into knots to fix them.
The home gateway is a general easy-to-use term, like a pizza or bhelpuri, you can configure the components needed to get a gateway. The Internet can reach your home through a cable line from an Internet service provider, a co-axial television line (such as one provided by Hathway) or could even be the plain-old dialup connection. But having got there, the Net needs a modem, and Internet-sharing router and an access point. A plain vanilla access point costs a little under Rs 4,000 while the range goes up to around Rs 12,000 depending on a number of factors.
“These days, people want multiple utilities with the same line. That’s where small home broadband routers come in,” says Vinay Ajmani, head of planning at Spark Technologies, a Delhi-based company that sells and sets up networking equipment. The main companies that sell boxes to unwire homes are Linksys, owned by Cisco Systems, Bangalore-based D-Link and Netgear.
They combine routers, switches, ports, adapters and boosters with access points to offer various levels of power and convenience for the customer. If you picture the Internet like a highway, the modem is like a bridge that brings it to a home, while a router is like a traffic policeman that directs the data, while a switch creates the roads that diverge from a point. The access point functions as the switch that enables wireless roaming.
Music and Big Brother
The business of home and SOHO networking is getting increasingly cool and flexible. You can buy a Wireless G adapter for gaming requirements. A music bridge can connect a stereo system to a wireless or even a wired network and create a virtual sound system in your PC which can play on your stereo system.
While these cost around Rs 6,000 as a base price, if you can spare about Rs 20,000, you can buy an Internet camera with an audio linked to a wireless gear. You can monitor people remotely and play Big Brother now! Small shops can use this as an in-house detective.
The wireless equipment follows standards conforming to standards set by the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE). The IEEE 802.11 is the term broadly given to wireless data access and the speed of access goes up in line with the letter of the alphabet. While 802.11b set the tone for wi-fi hotspots that enable laptop users to merrily link up to the Net from places like hotel lobbies and airports, the most prevalent standard now is the 802.11g. The wireless connections operate in the 2.4Gigahertz frequency which is open to the public.
Normally, access point gear should enable a 100-metre range, but life is not that easy. Walls, trees and glass partitions reduce the impact.