nl-basketball-fire-circleIn today’s always “on” environment, being connected is required. But connected to what? The network, of course. But which network and how?

In the early days, most computer users were trying to connect to another computer within the same physical building. This was done using copper wire. As the need for more and more computers to communicate together grew, a device called a switch was developed. The switch is what actually connects multiple computers together. You’d probably recognize—it’s the device with all the cables plugged into it.

Dribble on down the line a few years, and now users wanted computers to communicate to other computers outside of their own private network or physical location and a new device was born—a router. The router directed traffic to multiple networks. If the information you are trying to access is local, it directs your request to a local computer; if the information is not on your network, it provides the directions or routes information to your larger private network or alternatively, the Internet.

Over time, as laptops became more prevalent, plugging into the network became less desirable and wireless networks were born. Initially, the wireless connections were local within the same physical area, be it a home or office. The range of these wireless connections is limited. This type of connection is commonly referred to as WiFi. You’ve probably used a WiFi network not only in your home or office but also in your favorite coffee shop or hotel when you’re traveling. When you leave the establishment, you are disconnected from the WiFi network because you are no longer in range.

This led to cellular or broadband wireless. Using the same network as your cell phone, these wireless signals have a tremendous range and you can stay connected as you move throughout a geographic region and more. It is important to note that you are connected to the carrier’s public network, not your own and as a result, if you are trying to access information at your home or office, you’ll need to set up a mechanism to do so. Keep security in mind too!

So, what’s better? Typically, wired connections are faster, easier to control and as a result, are more secure than either WiFi or broadband wireless. If you need greater mobility and flexibility, wireless networks are a slam dunk. WiFi equipment is sensitive to building construction, distances and interference. As result, it’s important to evaluate your physical environment when considering using either WiFi or broadband wireless to connect.

WiFi technology is constantly improving and soon the speeds of WiFi and wired are expected to be equivalent. Similarly, the network speeds of broadband wireless are improving—3G vs. 4G, and so on. The next hurdle WiFi and broadband wireless will need to overcome is the limitations of signal loss and interference.

Only time will tell how technology will advance to solve these problems. Until that buzzer sounds, IT Radix will be here to help you sort through your wired and wireless options to select the technology that best meets your needs.

First published in our March 2014 IT Radix Resource newsletter