February 2002--I'm almost
embarrassed to say why I did it, but I did it; I've gone wireless.
First there was the issue of running CAT-5 around the old house.
After an afternoon playing in the attic, only to find that there are
cross braces in the walls, making it impossible to snake cable
without tearing out sheet rock I decided that it might be a wee bit
easier to go wireless.
There's always an issue of cost and there's no
question that CAT-5 is cheap but prices on wireless networking
products is very reasonable, especially compared to patching sheet
rock. There's also the issue of speed; current technology limits
wireless networking to 11Mb using the 802.11b standard. Then there's
the security issue. I'm not a security expert and I don't even play
one on TV, but in doing my homework there, seems to be some concern
in this area. However I don't have any security issues with data on
my network, in fact it'd bore the heck out of anybody snooping.
However if you have concerns in this area be aware that it's an
issue and consult an expert.
There are two components; the wireless "access
point" (I'll call it a "hub") that acts as the central control for
the wireless network and the wireless network card. Since I had an
existing network using conventional wire, routers and hubs, I wanted
to make sure that I could integrate the wireless hub onto the
existing network. If you're starting from scratch this won't be an
issue but all of the products I looked at supported a mixed
I looked most closely at products from Linksys and
Netgear since both are very reasonably priced and I've had good luck
with products from both companies in the past. In fact I use a
Linksys router for Internet connection sharing and a Netgear hub and
a mix of Linksys and Netgear NICs.
I ended up going with Netgear based on price and
availability; the ME102 "access point" or hub and since I was
hooking up my laptop as my first wireless device the Netgear MA401
wireless PC card. Also the ME102 performed very well in the Mobile
Computing range test, second only to the much more expensive ($500
vs. $145) Cisco Aironet hub.
Netgear offers other devices, a standard NIC, a
wireless hub with integrated router that allows you to share an
internet connection and more so there's a solution for just about
any need. They also offer devices based on the 802.11a wireless
standard which allows faster network speed.
Installation was a snap. The hub attaches via a
USB connection and after installing the software and setting up the
parameters for my standard tcp/ip network I simply plugged it into
the wired network hub. It couldn't have been easier. The install
software was truly elegant and made me remark on how far setting up
this stuff has come. Instructions were clear and easy to follow.
The PC Card was equally simply. I installed the
software and didn't even have to change the old wired network tcp/ip
settings; it was ready to go.
With some careful shopping, total cost with
shipping was $185. $140 for the hub and $45 for the PC Card. Street
price on a wireless NIC is running about $45 (the usual caution,
prices should continue to drop). Since there is a 802.11b standard
devices from other vendors should integrate just fine. Note the key
word here is "should". I haven't tried this but it is a standard.
I get good signal strength up to about 150 feet
from the hub going through two walls. There's a nifty little icon
that the Netgear software places in the system tray of the wireless
computer that uses green/yellow/red to show good/poor/no signal.
Clicking on the icon brings up details.
When the wireless computer is in the poor zone,
speed is limited to about 2Mb, still more than enough to get good
performance from a shared Internet connection.
What a Hoot!
I can now carry the laptop all over the house; in
the kitchen to call up a recipe, in the shop to call up plans and my
Okay, I Come Clean
Yeah, yeah, well okay. In addition to wanting to
not be tied to the office when I was expecting an important email I
really wanted to be able to couch potato and participate in some of
the web interactive stuff on TV so yes, during the super bowl I did
maintain my voice in the conventional wisdom that the Rams were
going to whip the Pats and I love looking up a movie on
IMDB so I can catch the trivial
and the flubs without hiking up to the office.
Am I a couch potato or what?
What I'd Really Like
Of course as a true couch potato the laptop is a
little inconvenient to lug around. How about a handheld device? It
appears to be possible but I don't have a handheld device. Comon'
Compaq or Toshiba, how about an eval unit before I strain something