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A home network hub allows multiple computers to connect to a single device to participate in a local area network (LAN). Computers on a LAN can pass files between each other and share resources like a central printer or fax machine. In many cases the purpose of a home LAN is to share a high-speed Internet connection, and local sharing isn’t desired and might not be implemented.
A hub is a small box-like device with multiple Ethernet ports, from which Ethernet cable can be run to any computer within range. This is typically 300 feet (~100 meters), although hardware strategies can be used to expand the LAN’s reach.
With the advent of wireless communication, many networks utilize a radio device that communicates with all computers on the LAN, rather than having to hard-wire them to the hub. The home network hub is typically built into a high-speed modem that includes a router to link the LAN and Internet. Modems support one or more types of Internet access, including cable, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or fiber optic service.
A wireless home network hub will require a hard-wired connection to a single computer for setup purposes, then it can be disconnected and placed centrally for maximum wireless coverage of the property. Each computer in the household must also have a wireless network card installed, or be using a wireless adapter, to communicate wirelessly on the LAN. Wireless network cards and adapters must also share a common protocol or standard with the wireless modem.
Compatibility can become an issue when marrying old and new hardware on a LAN. Wireless standards periodically change as technology improves. A home network hub or modem/router might support the newest wireless standard, while an older laptop might use an internal network card that supports an older standard. For maximum flexibility, purchasing a modem/router that supports multiple standards will ensure the device is compliant with newer and older computers in the household. Conversely, one can purchase wireless adapters that support the desired protocol.
If you don't mind some computers wired, and some wireless, the wireless home network hub or modem/router features rear Ethernet ports, which can be used with machines that lack wireless cards or adapters. Ethernet dongles that utilize a USB port are available for machines without a working Ethernet port. Ethernet ports are also available for the PC Card slot on older laptops. The disadvantage of using a wired connection is lack of mobility, of course, but in some cases this might not be an issue.