Know What to Expect When Setting Up a Wireless Network
By Jeff Bloom & Rob Kay
In a previous column we discussed how easy it was to network your home or office with a wireless router. With a modicum of technical skills (and perhaps a bit of help with from a manufacturer's tech support line) you can easily put your kids or co-workers on the Internet in a manner that doesn't cost a fortune and doesn't entail ripping the house apart. The entire process only took us only about an hour and that was because we took our time.
Using the System
So what can you expect from a wireless network? In our experience you will be quite happy with the speed but there are of course some limitations to this technology. Depending on the manufacturer, you can theoretically connect up to as much as 30 users on some of the wireless routers. If you're at home obviously this is not an issue (unless you have a particularly large family) but obviously an office situation could warrant a large number of users. Of course the larger the cluster, the slower the network because all machines connecting to an 802.11b network have to share available bandwidth. By our reckoning the systems we looked at were best suited for seven or fewer wireless clients.
How far can you meander about on a wireless network? All the manufacturers claim that you can get 11mbps (speedy) performance within 150 feet of the box. The gateway will actually drop transmission speeds depending on the quality of the signal the further you go. The range also depends on the specific acoustics of your home or office. Naturally the closer you are to the router, the faster your connection will be.
In truth all the four wireless routers we looked at functioned very well and were not difficult to install. Any one would work fine for a home. However there were significant price and warranty differences. Prices listed were (unless noted) found on CNET.
Linksys EtherFast Wireless Router - (Under $200 with rebate)--We know at least two CEO's of high tech companies who have Linksys wireless routers set up in their homes and both very happy with them. It was easy to set up, has a print server, and offers excellent firewall parameters that allow you to easily block intrusions and port probes. One thing we did like were the flashing LEDs lined up in front of the unit to make it easy to see the state of your connection. Linksys also ties with the Asante as being the least expensive unit-around $175 at CompUSA with a rebate. It comes with a one-year warranty and 24/7 tech support.
Proxim Skyline 802.11b Wireless Broadband Gateway-($260)--This unit was breeze to set up. The web interface is simple. Add your IP address and bingo, you're on. It has a four-port Ethernet switch that comes in handy for wiring a small room, fast performance and large status LEDs to easily monitor your connections. It got sparkling reviews from CNET and is a good bet for a home network. Documentation was rather sparse though-just a two page booklet. (Fortunately online documentation is excellent.) One-year parts and labor warranty/Tech support hours were 7 am - 4 pm M-F (West Coast Time).
Asante FriendlyNET FR3002AL Wireless-Ready Internet Router-($180) In addition to a four-port Ethernet switch the Asante had some neat features that we didn't see in most other models including a printer port, which allows printing from any networked computer and a "ping block" feature that hides your system from hackers. The Asante has a five-year parts and labor warranty and excellent printed documentation to help you set up the router. Toll-free phone support is available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. mountain time.
NetGear MR314, Linksys EtherFast Wireless Router-($205)--The NetGear product is designed more with an office in mind. It has a metal case--all of the others were plastic. The NetGear product also uses a licensed version of SonicWALL's (firewall) technology, which is very highly regarded in the industry. It has 7/24 support and interestingly enough at least part of their support team is in Delhi, India. They were polite, patient and knowledgeable. The NetGear unit we tested is considered by the manufacturer as a business product but the company will be releasing a product tailored for home use very soon. Last but certainly not least, NetGear backs the MR314 with an impressive five year warranty.
Jeff Bloom, SBA Small Business Person of the year, is the founder of Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm based in Honolulu. His contact is firstname.lastname@example.org or 839? 1200. Rob Kay is a Honolulu-based public relations practitioner who specializes in technology. He can be reached at email@example.com or 539-3627. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.