In a January survey, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 46 percent of homes with two or more PCs had some kind of network operating, compared with 29 percent just over two years ago.
Pew's researchers -- whose meticulous surveys produce some of the most reliable statistics on Internet use -- attribute the increase to two factors.
One is the surge in broadband Internet connections -- meaning high-speed cable or DSL service. Half the Internet-connected homes Pew surveyed in January had broadband, compared to only 24 percent in late 2002.
Broadband provides enough speed to make an Internet connection worth sharing. And the number of multi-computer households is growing rapidly -- it's now 32 percent of all American homes.
The other factor is the growing popularity of laptop computers -- 36 percent of home computer users said they had at least one portable machine in the house. And laptops are typically second or even third computers.
Laptop sales have also been growing faster than sales of desktop machines. Many newer laptops have wireless network adapters built in.
That said, it's not surprising that half the home networkers Pew surveyed use wireless equipment, while the other half use traditional cables.
According to market researchers, wireless home networking is exploding -- but you don't need a market researcher to figure that out. Just visit any computer store and count the wireless networking kits on the shelves.
So how easy is it? Since I last wrote about the subject 14 months ago, I've heard from plenty of people who've set up wireless networks. Most of their experiences have been relatively happy, but some haven't. My boss (a confirmed gadget guy) swears he had a house in Florida where nobody could get a wireless network running.
I've set up a couple of wireless networks for friends and relatives since then. One took less than an hour, while another took two days of barely intelligible conversations with tech support guys in Bangalore.
If you're thinking of going wireless, my best advice today is this: networking is still 90 percent science and 10 percent voodoo. If you hit the science, you're in luck.
If you run into the voodoo, you'll wish you'd taken the easy way out -- that is, hire someone who knows what he's doing.
Increasingly, that's what's happening. Recognizing the pitfalls of networking, many Internet Service Providers and retailers will gladly send technicians to your home for a fee.
Comcast, for example, charges $150 to set up a home network with up to 5 computers. That's on top of the tab for the equipment you'll need. If you're not computer-friendly, your budget can handle the tariff, and your goal is to have a wireless network sooner rather than later, by all means pay the man.
Thus warned, you'll probably decide to do it yourself. If so, assuming you already have a broadband connection, you'll need a gadget called a wireless router and a wireless network adapter for each remote PC.
For a typical system that links three PCs (one wired and two remote) you can expect to spend $150 to $250, depending on network speed and what's on sale at your local computer store.
Thanks to an industry standard known as WiFi, most routers and wireless network adapter will work together regardless of manufacturer. But you'll probably have an easier time if you stick to the same brand.
You'll also have to decide on the speed of your network. The newest and fastest equipment adheres to a standard called 802.11g (the letter is important -- you'll see it displayed prominently on the box). You'll pay a bit more for these, but not much.
If you're not moving massive music, video or data files between PCs and want to save a few bucks, you can still find older 802.11b equipment on the shelves. Both provide plenty of bandwidth for Web browsing, and you can mix the two. My recommendation: buy "g" equipment.
The key to networking is the router -- a small, special purpose computer that plugs into your cable or DSL modem. One of its jobs is to act as a front man between the Internet and the computers on your home network.
It also offers a measure of protection from Internet hackers -- but it's still a good idea to run firewall software on each PC.
The router's second job is to establish your home network so that you can share files, music and printers. In addition to a radio transceiver for computers with wireless network adapters, a router typically has four ports for standard network cables.
If other computers are within cable reach, it's faster and more reliable to use cables to connect them, too.
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