Welcome to Wi-fi
Wi-Fi is thetechnologicalwatchword of themoment. Coffee shops areoffering wireless web access,hackers are breaking intonetworks from their cars andnow you’re able to get on theinternet from the bottom ofyour garden. You can wirelesslylink all the PCs in your homefor under a few hundredpounds, and – this is Wi-Fi’skiller application – you canthen connect them all tobroadband internet.
The hub of your Wi-Finetwork is a wireless routerthat acts as the access pointfor transmitting and receivingdata. The router transmits toother PCs and either connectsto your broadband modem, orhas a modem built-in. Eachnetworked PC also needs anadapter installed that caneither be a PCI, PCMCIA orWET device. Some products,such as Tablet PCs and newernotebooks, already have abuilt-in Wi-Fi adapter and withIntel’s new Centrino mobiletechnology, launched earlierthis year, we can expect mostnotebooks to be Wi-Fi-enabledby 2004 (for more informationsee www.intel.com/centrino).
Wi-Fi is the industry body forwireless networking products;it’s short for “wireless fidelity”and is the catch-all term alsoused to describe products thatfollow the 802.11b set ofstandards – developed by theInstitute of Electrical andElectronic Engineers (IEEE).
The most popular wirelessstandard is currently 802.11b,which operates in the 2.4GHzband (the same frequency asmicrowaves and cordlessphones). It transfers data at 11 and 22Mbps – speedsmore than 20 times fasterthan a standard ADSL netconnection – and can connectdevices up to 300 feet apart.
It’s a spaghetti soup ofstandards, but the expertsconsider this necessary.
“Standards can beconfusing to customers, butorganisations like Wi-Fi havesimplified it for customers,”explains David Soares,European Managing Director atNetgear – one of the UK’sleading Wi-Fi manufacturers.“Adoption of wireless has beenfast and these standards haveprobably helped becausecustomers generally feel morecomfortable buying somethingthat has a stamp of approvalfrom a standards body.”
Although 802.11b iscurrently the most popularflavour of wireless, more andmore products are adhering tothe new 802.11g standard,with its hefty transfer speedsof 54Mbps. With all thesedifferent speeds to choosefrom you may be tempted tojust go for the highest, but thisdoesn’t necessarily equate tothe best choice.
“Small networks with justone or two users connectedwirelessly to the internet wouldnot benefit much from goingfor faster wireless speeds,”says Soares. “However,bandwidth on wireless networks is shared andprotocol overheads are high,so performance drops as thenumber of users increases.Therefore, if you expect thenumber of users on yourwireless network to grow, you’dbe better off choosing a fasterwireless standard.” In short, ifyou’re a business go for54Mbps, if not 11Mbps isplenty fast enough – and it’scheaper too.
Obtaining decent Wi-Fiequipment is easy and thereare plenty of products tochoose from. Also, because ofthe Wi-Fi standards thatmanufacturers must adhere to,products from differentcompanies will still workperfectly well together – just look for the ‘Wi-Fi certified’guarantee on a wirelessproduct’s packaging.
Prices for networking productsare similar across the board(£100-200 for an accesspoint/router, and £50-100 foran adapter) and you can buygreat combined packages.
Once you have your kit,setting up a wireless networkin your home is a piece of cake. Gone are the days ofEthernet cables trailing fromone PC to another, and theneed for a power tool andsome well-placedholes has beenbanishedforever. Thechaos that wasa wired networkhas beenreplaced by Wi-Fi.Most Wi-Fi productscome with simple installationinstructions, but the principleremains the same. First youneed to install your router/access point and then installyour adapters (the cards thatenable your wireless machinesto connect to the network).
Windows XP simplifieswireless networking byproviding ‘zero configuration’for 802.11b devices. Thisenables you to chose anumber of different networkingoptions via a simple wizard;you just plug in your adapters,Windows XP automaticallydetects them and then scansfor an available network. Thisis a great feature, but it alsoenables anyone else with awireless adapter to sniff outyour network – which is whysecurity is so important.
The main thing you need toconsider when installing youraccess point is whether youwant to share files andprinters with other PCs on thenetwork, as well as your netconnection. If you do decide toshare your printer and files,then enabling security isn’t anoption – it’s a necessity (seeour three-step guide).
Once you have your network upand running you can have a bitof fun – see just how far yournetworks transmits, andwhether there are any othernetworks in your local area.
We installed a popular‘sniffing’ tool (NetStumbler –available at www.netstumbler.org) onto a notebook with awireless adapter, and spentfive minutes walking up anddown a few streets in our localneighbourhood (in theoutskirts of Bath Spa). Bath ishardly a hotbed of technologybut in this time we managed tosniff out four wirelessnetworks – two were securedand two had been left open,enabling anyone with anadapter to get online. Thecommon consensus (especiallyin the press) is that anunsecured network guaranteesyou’ll be the victim of someheinous hacking act – not so.
The owners of theunsecured networks we foundhad only opted for enablinginternet sharing, so all wecould do was access the net via their connections. Whetheryou secure your network or notis entirely up to you, but don’tbe put off if you think it’sgoing to be a complicatedaffair – securing your networktakes a few minutes at themost. Now we’ve set up andsecured our network, it’s timeto sit back and enjoy thefreedom Wi-Fi can provide.
A whole host of products arebeing developed thatincorporate Wi-Fi technology,and the Smart Display has tobe one of the most appealing.Using wireless technology,Smart Displays provide youwith access to your computerwith Windows XP Professionalfrom anywhere in your home.
Smart Displays use the802.11b standard to connectto a PC running Windows XPProfessional with Service Pack1. Simply lift your flat paneldisplay out of its dockingstation and you can thenaccess your desktop PC fromup to 100 feet away, using theSmart Display and a stylus.
“We have seen a greatresponse from consumerssince the U.S. launch [ofSmart Displays] and we’reexcited to see our partnerscarry this momentum toEurope,” said Keith White,Senior Director of Marketingfor the Embedded andAppliance Platforms Group atMicrosoft. “As a quantum leapin the evolution of the monitor,Smart Displays freeconsumers from being tied totheir PCs, allowing them to stillhave access to all theirfavourite applications andservices, but from the comfortof any room in the home.”
ViewSonic already has twoSmart Displays available butthe latest to hit the market isthe Philips’ 15-inch DesXcape150DM. It combines adetachable monitor, basestation, wireless networkingadapter, and wirelesskeyboard, and retails for£999 in the UK (availablefrom PC World and Dixons).
BT is another companyinvesting heavily in Wi-Fiand it hopes to sell fourmillion more broadbandaccounts by 2006 on theback of Wi-Fi. BT has itsown range of Wi-Fiproducts in its Voyagerrange (www.bt.com/voyager), but top of itsdesirable gadget list has tobe its award-winning DigitalMedia Player.
This portable player (whichgoes on sale this summerpriced at £159) enablesstreaming of MP3s, CDs andinternet radio wirelessly fromthe PC to almost anywhere inthe house and garden, and itrecently won the Best ofInnovations award at theConsumer Electronics Show inLas Vegas.
David Sales, Director ofHome Communications for BTConsumer, claims that, “Newdevelopments in hometechnology – many of thempowered by broadband – arebringing the vision of theconnected home ever closer”.We agree; together Wi-Fi and broadband are revolutionisingthe way we live and work, andwe’ve shown that gettinginvolved yourself has neverbeen easier – so what’sstopping you?
- SET YOUR SECURITY
Your access point (router/Wi-Fimodem) will come with software to set asecurity key. Then you need to set securityon all the machines connecting your accesspoint, so go to Start > Control panel >Network connections.
- CONFIGURE THE NETWORK
Right-click on a network, selectProperties, and highlight the wirelessconnection you want to access in theAvailable networks window. Then clickWireless networks > Use Windows toconfigure wireless network > Configure.
- CONFIRM YOUR KEY
Here you’ll see a box called SSID (thename of your network. Tick boxes for Dataencryption and Network authentication, andthen provide, and confirm, your key (eitherthat you manually set for your access point,or was generated by a Pass phrase).
For the best wireless coverage, experiment with the position of your router
- AVOID OBSTRUCTIONS
So, you’re not getting good coverage?Check if your router is being blocked bysomething made of metal (like a filingcabinet) or whether it’s sitting at a lowerposition than the rest of the computersystem – or behind something that mayreduce your signal, like a wall.
- WATCH THE WAVES
Remember, wireless technology isradiating at a frequency that otherhousehold products use, such as cordlessphones and microwaves, so don’t put themclose to one another. For general coverage,place your access point as central withinyour home as you can.
- PRODUCT PLACEMENT
Get your access point as high aspossible – on a bookshelf for example.Location is everything with 2.4GHz wirelessdevices. If you want your connection toreach out into your garden, or even further,try placing it near a window on the relevantside of your home.
- Pass code
With the BT Voyager products it’s called a ‘Pass code’,with others a ‘Pass phrase’ but the principle is the same;it makes securing your network far easier than having tocome up with a hexadecimal code yourself.
- Signal strength
A quick look at the ‘signal strength’ shows that all ourbars are full – that’s great. However, if you find that onceyou’ve set up your network only a few bars are green, youmay need to move your access point.
Change your default SSID to something more unique thanthe one many products ship with (for example, all Linksysproducts use the “linksys” SSID until it’s changed). This isjust another way of securing your network.
- Security type
You can usually choose between three security types, butthe one you should concentrate on is 128-bit. This is thehighest security Wi-Fi products are sold with, so use it.
You can set different profiles to connect to differentwireless networks. So if you have a network at work, aswell as your home setup, there’s no confusion.
If you’re in range of a wireless device that you want toconnect to, simply select Add, and then highlight thenetwork in the next screen that appears.
Xbox Live enables you to participate in gaming around the world
Xbox Live is Microsoft’s new online gaming package,and with a wireless network you can experience theservice without the need to trail an Ethernet cable toyour modem, or router. Wireless Ethernet bridges (orWETs), which enable you to set up your Xbox withWi-Fi, are now available from Netgear, U.S. Roboticsand Linksys.
If you don’t use encryption on your network it’ssimply a matter of turning off your Xbox, plugging inand connecting your bridge, turning the Xbox back onand then inserting your Xbox Live CD (and followingthe on-screen instructions).
If you have the security for your wireless networkturned on you may need to consult your WET device’sdocumentation to get everything up and running, butit should only take a few minutes once you have yourencryption key, MAC address, and ISP details to hand.
Be warned though, if you’re planning to play yourXbox over Wi-Fi, remember that you shouldn’tsimultaneously use other devices that use the2.4GHz frequency. We’re already hearing reports ofmicrowaves kicking people out of MotoGP – seriously!You can buy an Xbox Live package from all goodgame stores for £34.99.
This material is the copyright material of or licensed to Future Publishing Limited
, a Future Network plc group company, UK 2004. All rights reserved.
Article ID: 871209 - Last Review: 09/26/2004 22:30:00 - Revision: 1.0