WiFi connectivity is certainly popular in office buildings, cafés, restaurants, and other public places where people with laptops, netbooks, PDAs and other gadgets can connect to the Internet. Having a wireless network at home would also be useful if you need to share your broadband connection with family members, and if you want to be able to use your portable computer in any room in the house.
The requirements for running a home wireless network are minimal. More often than not, your notebook computer would likely have a WiFi card built into the chipset. Some other gadgets, like mobile phones and PDAs also have built-in WiFi cards. However, you cannot directly connect these with your cable or DSL modem. You would need to buy a wireless router to act as your home networks’ wireless hub. There are a big number of choices for wireless routers out there. While it might be tempting to just buy the cheapest or the most feature-laden, it would be a good idea to evaluate your needs first before buying a wireless router for the home.
Brand. In most cases, brand will not matter, for as long as the technology behind your router is the same as with your laptop or desktop computer. However, if you already use a certain brand for your computers—say, you have a plug-in or USB WiFi card for your desktop computer—then it will make sense to buy the same brand. This ensures maximum compatibility, and in some cases, certain brands also use proprietary speed boosters or range enhancers, which can get you better connectivity. You have a wide array of choices here, including Broadcom, Netgear, Linksys and the like. Apple computers would probably work best with Apple Airport Express routers, but these also work with other routers, too.
In some cases, it’s the chipset that matters. Notebooks and netbooks with built-in network interfaces usually have Intel, Broadcom or Atheros chipsets. To be safe, do a quick check on whether the chipset your computer uses has problems with certain brands of routers.
Wireless technology. Most modern routers run a variant of WiFi-G. This is the most widely used among notebooks, plug-in USB adaptors and wireless-enabled gadgets. If you have an older computer, though, these might only support up to wireless-B, such as old Centrino-based laptops. However, most routers are backwards-compatible, and can support older technologies, too (although not simultaneously with newer technologies).
Some routers have draft WiFi-N capabilities (draft, since the “N” system has not been standardized yet). This allows the router to have stronger signals, and a wider range. Your laptops or other gadgets would need to have WiFi-N, too, for this to be useful. This would oftentimes come in handy if you need to connect through bigger distances, or if you need the signal to pass through walls. If this is necessary, then you should also consider buying extra external dongles that support the same draft-N standards, for your laptop or desktop computer.
Security. Most routers support some form of security, and the most common is WiFi Protected Access, or WPA. These come in several variants, such as AES and TKIP, but most modern notebooks and WiFi enabled gadgets would be compatible with these. You generally just need to supply a password or passphrase for security. Older notebooks might only be able to support Wireless Encryption Protocol or WEP, though. However, all routers that support higher forms of encryption would also be backwards compatible. Be mindful, though, that you can only enforce one type of encryption at any given time.
Choosing a wireless router boils down to need and budget. Since you will be using the router for home purposes, you might not need enterprise-grade security and features. Therefore, you should go for one that has adequate features at a price that’s reasonable.