How Much Does a Wireless Internet Box Cost?

by Keith Evans

As laptops and other mobile computing platforms become increasingly popular, the need for wireless Internet access is growing exponentially. With many different wireless Internet devices available in the marketplace, it is difficult to know just which wireless device will meet your specific needs. This article will help wireless Internet device shoppers understand the options available and make the appropriate selection.

Benefits

The benefits of wireless Internet access are numerous, as evidenced by the explosive popularity of wireless products. Not the least of the benefits by far, wireless Internet affords increased mobility around the house or office. In addition, it eliminates the need for yet another wire snaking around a desk, and helps both laptop and desktop users physically disconnect from the Internet access point. Finally, guests in a home or business can easily and quickly connect to a wireless Internet connection.

Function

Wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, works by sending networking data across radio waves instead of physical wired connections. Laptops, desktops, and other mobile devices process data and Internet surfing just as they do with a wired connection, but translate this data into a radio signal instead of sending it out the computer's networking port. The wireless router or access point simply decodes the incoming radio signals (received at a frequency of either 2.4GHz or 5GHz) and handles them in much the same way as any other incoming transmission would be processed. In order to keep track of all the different computers sending and receiving data, wireless devices adhere to 802.11 networking standards defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Identification

Wireless Internet devices using the 802.11 standard are available in a variety of capabilities, versions, and speeds. The most prominent of the differences is the version of the standard used by the device; this version is designated by a small letter after the standard name (for example, two popular options are 802.11b and 802.11g). Generally speaking, the further the letter is into the alphabet, the later the networking protocol version. In addition, later versions tend to offer faster data transfer speeds.

Types

The primary types of wireless Internet boxes currently available include: 802.11a: The very first wireless Internet protocol, this version featured wireless-albeit slow--access with very few bells and whistles. This version is rarely used today. 802.11b: This version was the first widely adopted wireless protocol and offered speeds of up to 11 megabits per second (11MBps). This version also supported several forms of wireless security, including Wired Equivalent Protection (WEP). 802.11g: Widely popular and renowned for it's 54MBps speeds, this protocol remained a staple of wireless Internet for several years. In addition to fast speeds, this version supported multiple security settings such as WEP, 128-bit WEP and WPA. 802.11n: This version of the protocol, once considered experimental, was the first to use multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) technology. Using MIMO, 802.11n devices can effectively handle two simultaneous conversations on the same channel, doubling the previous speeds to achieve a 108MBps data transfer capability.

Considerations

Because of the wide variety of versions and features, wireless Internet boxes vary greatly in price. A typical 802.11b/g router, the kind one would find in a home or small business, can be found from several major manufacturers (such as Linksys, Netgear, and Belkin) for between $30 and $75 depending upon the features, accessories, and retailer's markup. A residential 802.11b/g/n router may sell for closer to $100, and additional accessories can increase this price. Wireless access points (WAP), which serve as a wireless connection to a network already served by a wired router, are somewhat less expensive (ranging from $20 to $100), but can be complicated to set up and may be difficult to find at some retailers. Finally, commercial wireless boxes designed to serve large areas generally cost thousands of dollars, with a typical enterprise setup priced at around $7,500.

Warning

Because wireless Internet boxes allow anyone with a wireless device to access a connected network or Internet connection, precautions should be taken to secure the device from unauthorized use. Most devices support WEP or WPA encryption and allow user-defined passcodes for restricting access. Although enabling these security measures is completely optional, their use should be strongly encouraged.

About the Author

Keith Evans has been writing professionally since 1994 and now works from his office outside of Orlando. He has written for various print and online publications and wrote the book, "Appearances: The Art of Class." Evans holds a Bachelor of Arts in organizational communication from Rollins College and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration in strategic leadership from Andrew Jackson University.