What is a Home Network? What is a Router? The Connected Home 101
Don’t worry! It may not seem like it yet, but with my help, you’ll see Home networking is much easier than it used to be when you had to hire a professional to connect it all and configure it, etc. Let’s take it step by step.
Why you want a home network…
Have you heard?…you can see a slideshow of your photos on your TV. You can share music between the computers in your home and even listen to it on your home theater surround sound receiver. (Are you still calling it a “stereo?) New TVs can hook up to the internet and display news, local traffic and weather or you can watch online movies instantly from Netflix.
In order to talk to each other, all of your your computers, TV, and home theater components must be connected to your “home network.” Think of a ”home network” as all of your devices in a web where they can all communicate with each other and, when the router is connected to your internet modem, all connect to the internet.
What you need to know in a nutshell…
Creating a home network is as easy as connecting each and every component and computer (that you want to have in your network) to a router, either with an Ethernet cable or wirelessly. Connect an Ethernet cable from the router to the internet modem given to you by your internet provider–cable provider, dsl, etc.–and all of the components and computers connected to the router now have internet access.
What is a router? – the details
So that all computers and components can communicate with each other in the network, each is somehow connected to a router. Think of a “router” as routing information–creating roads for the information to travel along so it can reach other computers, devices. The router is like the traffic circle of all those roads. Connect all of your “networkable” devices, computers, TVs, etc. to the router, and it’s like they are connected directly to each other. The computers and devices can send data–files, media files like photos, music, movies and other information– to each other.
The router is also the post office. It assigns each connected computer and device an address (called an “IP address” or internet protocol address). With an IP address each connected computer and device can find each other on the routes. For example, your network-connected TiVo can find the photos stored on your computer; your laptop can find music stored on your desktop computer, etc.
The operative word here is “CONNECTED” ~ you must somehow connect all the devices to your router. This must be either a cable that is physically connected…or if you have a wireless router, you can connect wirelessly (aka “wifi”). Many laptops and some devices have a built-in wireless adaptor that can talk to the router and connect that way. Manufacturers make “wifi dongles” for some of their devices. You connect this accessory via USB to your computer or device and it can connect wirelessly to your router.
One recognizable trait of a router is that it has several Ethernet ports (connections). This lets you physically connect several devices directly to the router using Ethernet cables. It doesn’t matter whether the device or computer is connected to the router with an Ethernet cable or connected wirelessly, they can all see each other because they are on the same network and connected to the same router.
What’s a modem, then? Internet Modems vs. Routers
A router is not always a modem. A modem is the device that connects to your internet provider. The internet company brings a cable into your home–from your cable company if it is broadband, from the telephone company if it is DSL, or from other internet providers–and connects it to a modem. This modem is what allows you to connect your home devices to the internet.
Two things to know about modems here –
1) If you only had one device to connect to the internet (like your computer), you could connect that directly to the modem and go online with it. Some internet companies provide modems that are combined with routers, even wireless routers. These modems will have several Ethernet ports so as many devices can be connected to it and go online.
2) More often, you will connect your devices to the router. The router has an Ethernet port to connect directly to the modem. When connected, all devices and computers that are connected to the router are now connected to the internet.
That’s the basic “need to know” about routers, a basic home network and the first thing you need to know about a connected home.
Other things that will be helpful to understand about Home Networks
(future blogs will be linked to the topics below):
UPnP (Universal Plug n Play) and DLNA (the Digital Living Network Alliance) – so your devices can all understand each other and your files will show up.
File Formats: not all photos, music and movies are saved to the same type of file, and not all devices can read all types of file formats (think iTunes music file or mp3 music file).
How to set up a wireless home network - what you need to know, and yes YOU can do it.
Access Points: When one router isn’t enough
DHCP and Automatic IP Addresses & more – Troubleshooting conflicting addressses