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Let’s Get Technical

By Scott Weinberg, LASN associate editor for digital information, professor at University of Georgia

Typical wireless to wired network hook up.

As a landscape architect, the last thing that you ever thought you would be involved with is setting up a computer network in your office. After all, in most cases in your spare time you most likely would be out fishing and not at the local Radio Shack or Best Buy trying to acquire network parts!

However, imagine being able to take your computer and immediately be able to share files, view CAD drawings and even work on red lining a set of plans from anywhere in your office space. If you use a laptop in the office you would have the portability of taking it anywhere within the confines of the building. In some cases you could sit outside your office and work on projects while sipping a cool iced drink.

Most companies now have the capability and have networked their computer systems by means of a wired network. In some cases, this can be a very costly and time consuming endeavor for each connection. Of course, if you brought in your laptop it would not be part of the network. Being able to easily add computers and move about in your office space is a definite advantage to being tied to the "wired" network.

This type of “access point” allows for 802.11a and 802.11b connections. It is also upgradeable to a 802.11g system by simply replace one of the existing wireless cards.

Wireless technology means just that: "no wires." In the wireless realm, all computers are connected to one another by radio waves. In one set up you could use a peer-to-peer set up, also called a point-to-point connection. This means that all computers can communicate with any other computer on the network. Some wireless networks are client/server based. This means that they all have a single access point (a wired controller), commonly called a router, which transmits data to the wireless adapters installed in each computer. This is the type of wireless network featured in last month's issue that we installed for student use at the School of Environmental Design at the University of Georgia.

There are a number of technologies out there that are part of the wireless family. The four types that you should be familiar with are:

  • WECA (Wi-Fi)
  • Bluetooth
  • IrDA
  • HomeRF (Swap)

In the SED's installation we selected Wi-Fi as the wireless networking standard. This will allow our students to work from their laptops in all of our studio spaces without having to worry about system compatibility. The only addition to their laptops is that of a Wi-Fi card. This card can be purchased for about $50 and in the newer models of laptops are actually built in.The Wi-Fi standard is 802.11b, at this time. Besides being an identifying label the 802.11b has little meaning to the average user-that's us.

  • Wi-FI Specs
  • Speed, about 11Mbps
  • It is easy to set up and very reliable
  • Excellent range, 300 plus feet
  • Easily integrates into wired ethernet networks

Right now the Wi-Fi cards that are being used are the 802.11a and 802.11b cards. Each of these cards works on a different frequency and are not compatible with each other. The 802.11a card has a transfer rate of 54 mbps, while the 802.11b card runs at a slower 11 mbps. To complicate matters even more a new card, 802.11g is becoming available and will run at the faster 54 mbps speed. The good news here is that the "g" card is backwards compatible with the "b" card. This will allow for easy sharing between the "b" and "g" systems.

Wireless networking allows students (or professionals) to work at their drafting tables and alleviates overcrowding in the computer labs at SED.

Setting up the wireless network is fairly simple. What is needed to connect to an already wired network is an "access point" which can be thought of as a receiver. The access point is hard wired into an existing network. Once a wireless computer sends its' signal to the access point the data is sent through wires onto the network. So although a wireless installation, some wired technology is still needed. This is the type of network that the School of Environmental Design uses. There are access points in every studio.

With each studio having an individual access point, there is the potential of some 160 users to connect to each of the access points. This would be true if 80 were using "b" cards and if 80 were using "a" cards. The system is limited to 80 of each frequency.

Checking the speed and connection of the wireless connection is as easy as one click.

A true wireless system would have all computers, including the server, attached by radio frequency devices and no wires at all. This would be possible if all computers and the network were in a fairly close proximity of each other. The connections here at the SED are necessary because of the AutoCAD program. The program constantly looks for a code every few seconds to authenticate itself in order to continue working. As a result our students can use the site licensed software within the building and not have to do all their project work within the confines of a specific computer lab.

All in all a wireless network is an easy and fairly inexpensive method of sharing information across the office. It allows quick and easy access to anyone with Wi-Fi capability with almost no outlay of technology costs.

Special thanks to Lee Cornell for his expert advice and guidance in preparing this article. Lee is a technical specialist employed by the School of Environmental Design at the University of Georgia.

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June 26, 2019, 12:01 pm PDT

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