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A Guide to Setting Up Small Business Computer Networks

written by: NormDickinson•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/13/2009

A small business computer network is helpful as a single Internet connection will serve multiple computers and the installation, whether wired or wireless, can be done without any external assistance.

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    Nowadays, setting up a computer network is no longer a difficult task. The advent of wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) networking has created wonders in the networking world. A good understanding of networking basics can help a small business owner to make wise decisions regarding the setting up of the computer network or upgrading the existing network, if any, with the addition of new components.

    A typical computer network consists of switches, routers and broadband gateways. At present, small businesses can obtain an Internet connection from a local cable company or phone company (i.e., the Internet Service Provider or ISP). Following are the functions of the abovementioned physical components.

    • A broadband gateway or modem is provided by the ISP for accessing the Internet.
    • Routers connect one network to another – for instance, if there are several departments in an organization, each computer network of each department is connected through routers. Routers have security systems called firewalls built in them, they monitor the incoming network traffic and they prevent unauthorized electronic access to a networked computer system.
    • Computers link to each other and to the routers through switches by using Category 5 (Cat 5) cables, which are thicker than the conventional phone cables. Many a time, the routers used for small business networks have built-in switching technology. Four to eight computers can be connected using this integrated device.
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    A Guide to Setting up a Small Business Computer Network

    Following is a simple and brief step-by-step guide for setting up a small business computer network:

    • Choose and obtain an Internet connection from an available ISP. The common Internet connection types are cable, dial-up, DSL and satellite broadband services. The local cable television provider can be contacted for cable modem service or the telephone company can be contacted for DSL. Before choosing the Internet connection, one can always inquire regarding the reliability and customer service of the ISP, which is necessary for smooth functioning of the network.
    • Choose a network type (i.e., wired or wireless) and then the related hardware. If the person owns a laptop, then wireless networking is a good option. However, wired networks are found to be more reliable and safer than wireless ones.
    • Check the compatibility of the network adapter, else install one if required. A Universal Serial Bus (USB) network adapter is generally preferred because of its ease of installation. USB network adapters usually come with a software CD, wherein the manufacturer’s instructions should be followed to install the software. For a laptop, wired CardBus or CF network adapter will be suitable. However, if there is enough space available on a desktop computer, then we can also consider adding an internal network adapter. In case the user is not comfortable opening the computer’s case for installing the wired internal network adapter, then he/she can seek professional help. However, nowadays, most computers come along with built-in network adapters.
    • Set up the network. Once the network is setup, the Internet connection is automatically shared between the computers.
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    Going Wireless!

    Recently, wireless networks have turned out to be a practical solution that enables people to roam around freely with laptops. Setting up a wireless network involves the following simple steps: choosing the wireless equipment, connecting and configuring the wireless router and finally connecting the computers and devices. A wireless router can support up to 25 computers, which makes it a brilliant choice for small business offices. The only issue is that the computers should support Wi-Fi networking. The gateways are usually placed in a centralized location in the office in order to avoid “gradual degradation” in the Internet connection.

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    Therefore, in order to set up a small business computer network, it is not necessary to be a system expert. Moreover, the choice regarding whether the network should be wireless or wired solely depends on the user’s preference and convenience.