How Stuff Works: Wired, Wireless, Hybrid, and Private Network Configurations
by Jenny Moore
Since Maury gave an excellent overview of how computer networking works in general, I decided to focus a bit more narrowly on a variety of types of networks, with a focus on in-home networks. According to Jeff Tyson, a network consists of: nodes (computers), connecting medium (wired or wireless), and specialized network equipment like routers or hubs. Tracy V. Wilson and John Fuller explain that a home network is simply a way of allowing multiple computers to connect and communicate with each other, but as Wilson and Fuller point out, the network can also allow for computers to connect to other types of electronics, including televisions, game consoles, and printers. In order to set up a home network between two computers, you need computers (obviously), hardware to connect them (a router), software to guide their communications, and a path for the information to follow (Wilson and Fuller).
Here’s a video showing a bit of what you can do with a home network:
Home networks are generally either Ethernet or wireless connections (though hybrid connections are possible) in which the network is facilitated by connecting a router to a modem (Wilson and Fuller). Routers connect both networks, the home network and another network and connect them both to the internet and they dictate where packets of information go via the use of a configuration table-a collection of information about connections, priorities, and rules for handling varying types of information that includes (Franklin).
Wilson and Fuller explain that there are positive and negative benefits to both types of networks.Wired networks (utilizing either Ethernet cable, a phone line, or broadband cable) are more secure and may be faster than wireless networks, but they are a bit more expensive, installation is more complicated, and devices are tethered to the wire-limiting mobility of portable devices (Wilson and Fuller).
Wireless networks are cheaper and easier to set-up because they require a wireless router, which sends radio signal to devices, and a wireless adapter for the computers connected to the network, and though they allow for more portability of devices, they are less secure and slower than wired connections (Wilson and Fuller). Because security is an issue with wireless networks, home-owners will need to consider using Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP), WiFi Protected Access (WPA), or Media Access Control (MAC) address filtering to protect the network (Wilson and Fuller).
According to David Roos, “Now people are viewing Ethernet and Wi-Fi as important components of the same local area network (LAN)”. Hybrid networks, that use both wireless and wired connections are becoming more popular. Roos defines a hybrid network as “any computer network that contains two or more different communications standards” (“How Hybrid”). Hybrid networks use hybrid access points, networking devices that “that both broadcasts a wireless signal and contains wired access ports” (Roos, “How Hybrid”).
An intranet, a network similar to internet in that it utilizes “TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol) that connects hosts to users over a network” and it “works exactly like the Internet, except it’s a network confined within a company, school, government, or organization” (Roos). Roos article discusses the use of intranet in businesses, but they can also be used at home. According to Roos, the only piece of equipment needed for a computer that already has internet capabilities is Web server (hardware and software) (Roos).
With a web server, networked PCs, firewall hardware and software, content management software, and other application software (Roos). To access the intranet, computers need to be connected to LANs (local area networks). Firewall hardware and software is important to intranets because it “stand[s] between the outside Internet and the corporate intranet, monitoring all incoming and outgoing data packets for unauthorized or suspicious requests” (Roos).
LAN (Local Area Network)
Local area networks (LANs) are wired networks that connect computers on the network. According to Jeff Tyson, “Switches that provide a separate connection for each node in a company’s internal network are called LAN switches. Essentially, a LAN switch creates a series of instant networks that contain only the two devices communicating with each other at that particular moment.”
Virtual Private Networks
Jeff Tyson and Stephanie Crawford explain that a “VPN is a private network that uses a public network (usually the Internet) to connect remote sites or users together” via “‘virtual” connections routed through the Internet from the business’s private network to the remote site or employee” (Tyson and Crawford). VPNs are much more secure than other networks because the data traveling over the network is encrypted (Tyson and Crawford).
According to Tyson and Crawford there a a variety of tyoes of VPNs, including remote access VPNs that allows users to connect with a secure network, site-to-site VPNs that users in different locations to connect with each other over the internet.
Data is kept secure as it travels through VPNs by layering the packets of information within other packets (encapsulation).
Here’s a brief video that explains how a VPN works:
Importance of Understanding the Types of Networks:
Beyond understanding how computer network connections work and how the information that is sent via networks is conveyed via packets, it is important to understand the types of connections (wired, wireless, hybrid, private, etc…) because networks the type of network connection dictates the relationship of the nodes to one another as well as the scope of the network. Private intranets are much more secure than wireless internet connections. Wireless and hybrid networks will likely be capable of supporting many more nodes than wired networks are capable of supporting. The type of network also dictates whether the nodes in the network can communicate directly with one another or if communications must be conveyed through some centralized computer system.
While the articles have focused on computer networks, the types of connections that are possible via networks can be enlightening when considering how groups of human networks are connected. How do human nodes relate to one another? Do they communicate directly or via some other stakeholder in the network?
Popplet Engagement Activity
Examine the varying types of networks discussed and choose one to replicate via Popplet.com. You may want to consider a network you are familiar with and analyze how the connections between the modem, the router, the computers and/or other devices are facilitated. Use Popplet to draw an image of either 1) your own home network, 2) the network at your workplace, or 3) a type of network connection discussed in the blog post. Make sure to consider what all of the nodes are, the relationship between the nodes, whether the nodes can communicate with one another directly or if communication must be facilitated. After you complete the Popplet, use the Google Doc link below to submit a brief description (in 2-3 sentences) the network that you mapped.
Here is the link to the Popplet:
The Goggle Doc Form:
wired network – a network in which the connections are made through wired connections
wireless network – a network that connects computers or other devices through radio signal
VPN – virtual private network
LAN – local area network
hybrid network – a network that contains both wireless and wired connections
star typology – a network configured so that information must travel through the center to reach the points
hybrid access point – a networking device that both broadcasts a wireless signal and contains wired access ports.
encapsulation – layering of packets
“Computer and Networks – Wireless Network Diagrams.” ConceptDraw.com. N. p., n.d. Mon. 20 Jan. 2014.
“Ethernet cable.” Elec-Intro Website. N. p., n.d. Mon. 20 Jan. 2014.
Franklin, Curt. “How Routers Work.” How Stuff Works. N. p., n.d. Mon. 20 Jan. 2014.
Roos, Dave. “How Intranets Work.” How Stuff Works. N. p., n.d. Mon. 20 Jan. 2014.
—. “How Hybrid Networks Work.” How Stuff Works. N. p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.
Tyson, Jeff. “How LAN Switches Work.” How Stuff Works. N. p., n.d. Mon. 20 Jan. 2014.
—, and Stephanie Crawford. “How VPNs Work.” How Stuff Works. N. p., n.d. Mon. 20 Jan. 2014.
Wilson, Tracy V. and John Fuller. “How Home Networking Works.” How Stuff Works. N. p., n.d. Mon. 20 Jan. 2014.