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Home Networking and the WAF

By Jim Scheef


Home networking always involves what I call the "Wife Acceptability Factor" or WAF for short. I'll illustrate this concept with an example from my own home. Perhaps the biggest impediment to home networking is the difficulty and cost of installing cable between the computers. How you do this is where the WAF comes in. One way is to hire an electrician to install outlets for the cables in the walls. The electrician fishes the wires up from the basement and/or down from the attic and installs an outlet in your wall that looks like a telephone jack on steroids. This solution is neat (high WAF) but expensive at $150 to $300 per cable run (low WAF). I'm sure you get the idea.

In my house, I simply ran the cable down the hall from my office to the family room looping it under the rugs to get it thru the living room.

Obviously this is a low-WAF solution, but since I don't have a wife, this was not a problem. Your mileage may differ.

Now, today's technology offers some solutions that may pass the WAF test in your house. One good one is a wireless network. These are available from several vendors such as Intel, D-Link, 3COM, Linksys and others. Look for products based on the 802.11b standard. The one I used to eliminate that cable down the hall comes from D-Link Systems, Inc. and works acceptably well. My experience, as well as others, suggests that the distance claims for these products may be on the optimistic side. However, the ability to completely eliminate the need for cables makes these very attractive.

Except for the wires, these work exactly like any other network and allow for sharing of files, printers and an Internet connection. Cost for a three-computer network will be about $1000. This may seem high but compare it to the cost of the electrician to put it in perspective. It also allows me to work outside on the deck or even surf the net from the hammock - very cool!

Another solution is networking over the telephone wires already in your house. 3COM has products of this type. So far there does not appear to be an official 'standard' for this technology so one vendor's products will probably not work with those from any other vendor. There are several caveats. First, older telephone wiring will give problems due to a lack of sufficient twists (I kid you not) and these will probably not work if you have a DSL connection in the house. I do not recommend this technology but it costs less than wireless and may fit your WAF constraints.

One last suggestion is another type of network interface card. If your computer has no available slots, or you simply don't want to open it up, there is still an option. Several manufacturers make NICs that use the USB (universal serial bus) port rather than a slot to connect the computer to a network. 3COM and others offer these for about $60.

Have fun with your network!

Jim Scheef is a software developer with 20+ years experience in the industry. His company, Telemark Systems Inc., specializes in Visual Basic, SQL Server, and Windows NT networking. Jim has been a DACS member since the day DOG became WC/MUG, whenever that was. He leads the and Back Office SIG and is a co-leader of the Visual Basic SIG. Contact Jim at jscheef@telemarksys.com.